Create Meaningful Interaction

I co-presented a session at the eLearning Gathering in Orlando in March and at the eLearning Guild Online Forum last month on “How to Create Effective AND Engaging Learning Games”.

My co-presenter was Ron Weaver, who teaches at the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA), a graduate videogame design school at the University of Central Florida. FIEA is an accredited Master’s degree in interactive entertainment. It was really interesting collaborating with Ron on this session, since his perspective on game play and game design comes from a commercial game development world.

Even though I come from an educational game background, it was really interesting how similar our philosophies on engagement are.

So, how do you create effective and engaging learning games? The strategies include:

•Focusing on gameplay first, then the course content

•Embedding lessons into the gameplay

•Using simulation to focus only on what needs to be taught


Focusing on gameplay first, then course content

This is probably contrary to everything we’ve learned as instructional designers. But the issue with focusing on the specific content first is that we instinctively begin creating a “scope and sequence” or a flow to the content. This usually results in linear (and boring) game. Instead, this first rule of engaging gameplay is to find the verb. What do you need the player to be able to know or (preferably) do at the end of the level or game? This outcomes-based approach focuses on the ends instead of the means. The idea is that if the player needs to be able to design and launch a new product, then the game play needs to allow the player do this. Once you think about it from a performance objectives perspective, then this starts to make sense. The argument will be: “But they don’t know how to do that!” Which leads into the next strategy.


Embedding lessons into the gameplay

With the performance objectives identified, now you create the game design to “teach” through play. To do this, you may need to break your performance objectives down into more discrete tasks: “Be able to identify a product need”, “Determine your target demographic” etc. This will allow you to “embed” the enabling objectives into the level. This sounds easier than it is, of course. I recommend several brainstorming sessions, where you walk through potential use-cases or “game plays” so you can create meaningful interactions – interactions that enable the player to fail (in a fun way) and to get immediate feedback on what works and why. Now, some learners will get very frustrated with this “fail forward” approach to learning, so I suggest creating “embedded” linear tutorials that present the information in a more conventional way. This will accommodate those who just don’t like to learn through immersive play, but may like more casual style games.


Using simulation to focus only on what needs to be taught

This is the toughest strategy to follow. When you are developing an instructional game, there will be reviewers or people on your team who will want to simulate everything. This not only takes countless development hours, but can also squeeze the life out of your game. As a game, it doesn’t need to be realistic. The learning just needs to be accurate. So does it matter that that the player can choose the 20 or so strategic factors for a new product? Or can you have them select three and achieve the learning just as well? That’s the question you need to keep in mind as you design.

If anyone has any examples of how they’ve achieved effective AND engaging learning games, drop me a note. If it’s okay, I’d like to share those best practices on this blog.

If you’d like to learn about game based learning from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

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