Guest Blog: Embracing Immersive, Gamified Cybersecurity Learning, Featuring Divergence Academy

What is immersive, gamified cybersecurity learning? The term was originally coined in 2002 by a British computer programmer named Nick Pelling. The term hit the mainstream when a location-sharing service called Foursquare emerged in 2009, employing gamification elements like points, badges, and “mayorships” to motivate people to use their mobile app to “check in” to places they visited.  The term hit buzzword fame in 2011 when Gartner officially added it to its “Hype Cycle” list. But gamification is more than a buzz word. Companies have seen gamification work for them in cyber team training—so we thought it wise to take what is working and apply it at the earlier stages of career development—in the classroom.

At Divergence Academy, we are proud to offer a curriculum that embraces blended cyber learning to cultivate students and transitioning professionals who are ready to enter the workforce and stop today’s cyber threats.

We offer data science, cybersecurity, and cloud computing immersive learning programs that enable students to gain the knowledge and skills needed to work in any of those fields. Many of our courses offer a mix of concept-driven learning and application-driven learning so that students understand new knowledge and, in turn, apply that knowledge in skill building, project-based activities. Through working with messy, real-world data and scenarios, students gain experience across the entire technology spectrum.

Studies find when learners engage in active learning, hands-on activities, their information retention rates increase from 5% (with traditional, lecture-based methods) to 75%. The millennial generation presents radically different learning preferences than previous generations. Thus, educational institutions across the country should consider gamification as a pedagogical technique in the classroom. A study from the University of Limerick notes:

Gamified learning activities could become an integral part of flipped teaching environments. Their social, asynchronous nature can be used to prompt students to engage with pre-prepared content, while gamified learning activities can be used in the classroom to prompt student interaction and participation.

In watching our students engage with gamified activities, we see team-building blossom before our eyes. We see instant collaboration and problem-solving and critical thinking emerge. Those kinds of soft skills can’t always be taught in a traditional lecture-based setting and because of that, it is critical that we continue to offer a healthy mix of concept-driven learning with gamified learning opportunities to our students so that they can enter the workforce with a more holistic understanding of the industry.

Cybersecurity has become a captivating and engaging subject matter for students, which is fantastic as those words aren’t typically associated with the technical field.

“Wow, today we were introduced to Project Ares. Captivating is the best description I can think of. It is like ‘Call of Duty’ for cybersecurity.”
~ Divergence Academy Student, 24 years old

Fellow professors and instructors are looking for ways to make cybersecurity more interesting and attractive to students and we believe at Divergence, the gamified learning approach can help. It is an approachable way for students to engage with a field they may be completely unfamiliar with and it supports instructors by offering a course that students WANT to take.

“We notice an increase in student engagement in the classroom with the introduction of Project Ares. Gamification brings an element of intrigue and satisfaction to the learning experience.”
~ Beth Lahaie, Program Director

We hope our adoption and proven success of a blended learning approach is the nudge other institutions around the globe need to consider its power in building the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.

 

 

Guest Blog: Reimagining Cyber Learning for Students, Featuring Divergence Academy

 

It’s one thing to talk about the importance of teaching cybersecurity in an engaging way, and another thing to actually do it. Divergence Academy is proud to partner with Circadence to reimagine how cybersecurity is taught to current and aspiring professionals.

About Divergence Academy

Divergence Academy is an education institution creating adaptive learning solutions to empower individuals to pursue the work they love on the most relevant skills of the 21st century – from web development to data science to product management. It was established in 2014 as the first Data Science school in the Dallas/Fort Worth area school that used a hybrid approach to learning. It offers immersive and weekend programs for working professionals, college grads and transitioning workers.

In early 2017, the academy grew to partner with leading cybersecurity organizations including E.C. Council and CompTIA to offer certified learning for students. However, it found that the curriculum was missing something—a “WOW” factor—a platform where learning could be managed and developed using a more hands-on approach, allowing students to level up and reinforce the skills they were learning towards certification.

A Gamified Approach to Cyber Learning

In realizing that we needed a more robust learning platform that complemented the certifications we offered, we were introduced to Circadence, a market leader in cybersecurity readiness, known for its Project AresÒ cyber range solution. It incorporated gamification into every aspect of the learning process, which encouraged students to progress through real-world exercises at their own pace and with a level of engagement unseen in previous traditional course sessions.

Finding Project Ares put us on the map as an institution that put learning to work and it showed that we are not just an AI school but a school that teaches what we preach!

The Class: Cybersecurity Professional Penetration Tester

We launched our 12-week class using Project Ares in early February 2019. The program is a 400-hour course delivered over 2 weekday evenings and Saturday to prepare students for the role of Certified Ethical Hacker. We have a mix of students from mathematicians to software engineers to IT students all with varying levels of knowledge of cybersecurity, but anxious to learn.

In Project Ares, students are able to identify “learning moments” where they begin to connect the dots on how a cyber concept is applied to a real scenario. They try to solve problems together, which is exactly what a real cybersecurity job would require.

Not only are students learning industry-wide technical competencies such as information assurance, risk management and incident detection but also workplace competencies like teamwork, planning and organizing, problem-solving, and more. In preparing for a CEH role, students engage in the battle rooms, learning foundational skill sets and then apply them to a methodology in the missions. Skills like system hacking are learned in Missions 8-10, 12, and 13, and enumeration in Mission 1, and reconnaissance in Mission 1.

The feedback from them is reassuring that Divergence Academy and Circadence are a powerful partner. We hear they enjoy collaborating with their peers in exercises within the platform and they kind of form their own “tribes” if you will and that’s the beauty of gamified learning. It really teaches these students how to work together, build soft skills, and technical skills needed for today’s workforce.

The Impact of Project Ares

Project Ares has allowed our instructors to really focus on our student’s performance. The automated, in-game advisor Athena within Project Ares helps students progress from activity to activity and solve problems quicker, which helps instructors prioritize the pace of learning from all students and in using the trainer view in Project Ares, see where the skills gaps are and how to better inform the exercise content to meet the individual needs of the students. Further, the automatic scoring and badging in the platform coupled with the media center allows instructors to easily align course curriculum with the platform’s games, whether it’s in a mission, a battle room, or through a mini-game.

A Vision Come to Life

Divergence Academy is excited to build a network with local community colleges in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in order to help upcoming graduates and faculty see us as a school that takes student learning to new levels—applied levels—practical levels that are relevant to the workforce. We hope local schools see our trade school as the next step in their learning journey to cybersecurity professionalism and understand that they will be able to get hands-on skill building (or upskilling) and practical experience.

 

To learn more about Divergence Academy and how they’re using Project Ares to support student learning, visit https://divergenceacademy.com/.