Ethan Edwards of Allen Interactions likes to make the point that we can’t make people learn. You can’t learn someone to do something. You have to create the conditions where they want to bring the information to themselves. And games are a great place to create a sense of engagement.
Games create a new world, one with rules that put constraints on actions. In terms of training, this creates a safe place to fail. It’s safer to get an ethics policy wrong, or fail to correctly describe new software, or to say the wrong thing to customer, in a game than it is in real life.
Games often have a reputation of being complicated and time consuming to develop. And they can be. At the same time, it matters where that effort is being placed.
Not all games need highly developed graphics. The graphics-lacking iOS game A Dark Room was the most-downloaded app of April 2013. Simple graphics that sketch an idea of a world can be enough set the stage for a game design.
You can start with a carefully designed series of branching scenarios. Ensure that the choices at each branch demand careful consideration and present a danger or risk within the context of the game. Make the consequences of the choice realistic. And make the next choice logically and emotionally consistent with the previous and next.
If possible, create a set of outcomes, even to a simple game; perhaps a good, better, best outcome. Learners are more likely persevere in the game if they think they can do better. And, if possible and the context warrants it, consider posting scores in a public area to encourage competition. It’s amazing the extent to which a leaderboard will promote both engagement and high completion rates.
Once your game is designed, the interface can be as simple as a series of multiple choice questions. Note that this approach is almost natively accessible, available to people with disabilities who may use alternative methods (such as a keyboard or a screenreader) to navigate your course.
Add a visual wrapper for context, and you can roll out a game with relatively little effort.
For more information and guidance on game design, consider taking a look at Karl Kapp’s excellent book on applying game-based methods to training. Jesse Schell’s book on the art of game design is a modern classic.
As with other techniques, it takes time and practice to study, learn, and develop the skill of game design. But once you have it, you can create online training that makes a learner want to engage. And by bearing in mind that well-designed text can be as engaging as a fully immersive 3D environment, you can create engaging learning on a budget and on time.
More on Training Delivery Methods
- Using Video in Training: Should You or Shouldn’t You?
- Microlearning—Is it a Good Fit for Your Training Program?
- Elearning Trends: Is New Really Better?
- Graphic Designers: Do You Need One on Your Learning Development Team?
- Leaders in Learning Podcast – ELS Speaker Kevin Gumienny on Accessible E-Learning (E-Learning Council)
- Fresh from DevLearn 2012: Games and Learning
- Converting Classroom Training to Elearning
Note: This post was originally published Aug 18, 2014, and has been updated with additional information and links.