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GICAST: Developing a Gamified Intelligence Cyber Aptitude and Skills Training Course for the Vulnerable Workforce

There is a growing demand for cyber security professionals due to the proliferation of new digital technologies in areas such as industrial automation, healthcare, smart cities, etc. Ironically, it is expected that these very technologies could displace a certain section of other workers employed in vulnerable sectors. While there is a global shortage of cyber security professionals and a clear skills gap, a job in cyber security is currently out of reach for many people (National Security Strategy, 2020). GICAST was developed in response to this, as part of the CareerTech Challenge and has been designed specifically for those job seekers who are living in England with no formal degree-level qualification and who may have worked or are working in an industry sector that is shrinking or undergoing significant change.

Who are we?

The Open University is a leading distance learning provider with over 50 years of experience in designing learning content for adult learners. OpenLearn is our digital learning platform that hosts short informal online courses for all, but particularly targets low-confidence learners. The courses are free and short, spread across eight weeks with 20-24 hours of learning. The learners can access the courses on any device, anytime and can acquire a digital certificate or a badge on successful completion. The GICAST course was developed by Open University and hosted on OpenLearn.

What we did

GICAST has enhanced the existing Badged Open Course (BOC) called ‘An Introduction to Cyber Security’ (ICS) with two key innovations, game-based intervention and content adaptation.

Key enhancements made to the GICAST course to meet the needs of the target learners are:

  • Eight games were developed and embedded into each week’s learning content to assess the learner’s cyber aptitude and skill. This was intended to promote intrinsic motivation and enhanced learner engagement among target adult learners.
  • Content adaptation techniques were implemented to offer an adapted, personalised learning journey to the learners. In addition, an industry recognised digital badge was offered to the successful completers to endow the learners with career confidence to engage with the digital world and gain further digital skills to enhance their career options.
  • Learners were provided with career coaching throughout the duration of the course, including CV building skills and were signposted to interview opportunities, by the project partner Stay Nimble. This was intended to improve career curiosity among learners who may not feel they have the knowledge or aptitude to reskill into the growing cyber security sector.
  • Learners were offered access to a free Cisco training course to continue their learning journey. Additionally, the learners could showcase their skills to a vast network of employers through Cisco’s ‘Talent Bridge Portal’ taking them one step closer to a career in cyber security. This was intended to exposing workers in low-skilled jobs to qualifications and routes that will enhance their career control.
  • GICAST offered learners an opportunity to reskill in the burgeoning cyber security sector, thereby endowing them with skills and confidence to navigate the changing job landscape.
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GICAST Learner Journey

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GICAST Features

Our Findings

Our initial evaluation has shown promising outcomes and positive impact on the following five metrics:

  1. Increased learner engagement
  • 70 per cent of learners completing a game played this game at least three times
  • 400 learners completed the course as of 12 May 2021 (20.8 per cent of total learners enrolled, 74 per cent were identified as the target group of learners), which is double the completion rate compared to the previous non-gamified BOC
  • GICAST had only 2.4 per cent withdrawing from the course compared to 7.8 per cent withdrawal in the previous BOC.

2. Positive learning experience

  • Gamification impacted the learner experience positively. 94.51 per cent say they enjoyed learning on GICAST.

3. Career adaptability

  • Over 85 per cent of those who completed GICAST went on to study for a Cisco certificate, which would enable a new career pathway for them.
  • The statistics show that GICAST has positively impacted the learners regarding advancing their career and enrolling in further training or applying for entry-level jobs in cyber security.

4. Cyber security behaviour

The qualitative data indicate that GICAST participants have experienced many ‘Aha! moments’ during the course, which exposed their habitual poor cyber practices and motivated them to change. Games seem to have played a significant role in supporting the learner’s self-reflection over their cyber practices:

“Playing the Open Sesame Game made me confront a situation that I was habitually employing. I am always duplicating passwords, and this game made it impossible to do this […] This now highlights the problem and laziness in this situation.”

5. Confidence in Digital Learning

Statistical analysis of the pre and post-survey in digital learning measures showed a positive impact on learners’ confidence in digital learning with the most substantial improvements in knowing how to find appropriate digital resources and enjoyment of digital learning.

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Key findings on Career Adaptability

Future plans

GICAST will continue to be hosted on OpenLearn and will be accessible to the vast demography of learners that the platform attracts. We aim to offer reskilling opportunities to learners from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and abilities through informal and formal learning journeys and take them one step closer to a job in the growing cyber security sector. A sector that has a clear skills gap and will benefit from wider representation. We will use our findings from the CareerTech Challenge to more effectively support adult learners. There are also plans to modify the course to suit younger learners, as part of the Government's efforts to cyber security capacity building and nurturing sustainable talent pipeline. If you want to know more or collaborate with the project team, do get in touch.

Website: tinyurl.com/7n7ktv5v

Video: About GICAST

Contact: Dr. Chitra Balakrishna

Email: [email protected]

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-chitra-balakrishna-6065985/


You can watch the Open University CareerTech Challenge pitch video below


Chitra Balakrishna

Programme Leader, Cyber Security, Open University