Making the best of learning games

There’s a lot to think about when introducing learning games to the workplace. From gauging interest to designing the game, to deciding content and delivery methods—it’s a big job. In this article, we explore some key principles for designing and delivering a learning game that brings value to your people.

 

Gamification

 

A good question to reflect on before you start is: Do we need a learning game, or do we need gamified learning?

While the two concepts sound similar, they couldn’t be more different. Gamified learning is an approach to learning design where learners are motivated with game design techniques (such as competing, collecting, exploring and collaborating). Gamified learning is often characterised by leaderboards, user badges, and unlockable areas on a Learning Management System (LMS).

In contrast, learning games are gaming experiences (often developed in game engines such as Unity or UnrealEngine) whose goal is to teach a particular skill. These can be Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), PC games, or mobile games. 

The distinction isn’t always necessary to make, in fact, many learning designers today reject that the dichotomy exists. While the two ideas are linked, there are differences in how much they cost to produce, how they’re carried out, and the kind of organisation that would respond well to them.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s explore some best practices for developing learning games for your organisation.

 

Replayability

 

If your learning game needs to simulate a scenario that your learners will experience in real life, it’s important that they can explore the consequences of their actions. When they can repeat scenarios and take different actions, learners can discover:

  • New ways of doing things
  • Mistakes they shouldn’t make again
  • How to cope with scenarios that aren’t ideal

 

Exploring consequences in simulation games offers a safe space for learners to make mistakes, especially when mistakes can be costly in real life. Learning to bounce back from mistakes is a vital skill, and simulation games are uniquely positioned to teach it.

Plus, games that have lots of variation make sure that learners don’t get bored—they can play the game over and over and still learn something new each time. Each playthrough in a rich game can offer a learner a new experience, and teach then something deeper than the first time around.

 

Provide meaningful feedback

 

In any job, providing actionable, meaningful feedback is important for employee development. It’s the same for games. When learning games don’t give feedback to show that the learner is on the right track, the game (much like real life) can become frustrating and confusing. Concrete, actionable, and quantifiable feedback allows learners to achieve the goals of the game. Consider how you’ll choose to give feedback: will you use colour, pedagogical agents, points, open badges or something else?

Ensure that your feedback isn’t so simple that it lacks nuance. While encouragement is important, people are complex, so it’s worth taking a hard look at the behaviours and skills you want to encourage and how you reward those.

 

Immersion and practice

 

If you choose to use games to allow your learners to practice a skill, then it’s worth considering whether immersive VR or a SCORM package is right for you. VR allows users to practice their skills safely in an environment that feels real. If it’s hands-on skills, social skills, or a situation that’s too dangerous or rare to practice organically, VR might be the right choice for you.

Immersion also allows for better storytelling. Who doesn’t love a good story? Teaching using stories will improve recall and understanding. Allowing players to interact with a story and influence its outcome will lead to stronger immersion and learning retention. It’s a positive cycle that improves learning and learner satisfaction.

 

Know your players

 

What motivates the people you are designing for? When they play games, are they collectors, explorers, socialisers or destroyers? Does your game provide opportunities for each kind of player to play to their strengths? Incorporate challenges that appeal to each type of player to keep them on their toes. 

Going further, make sure the game is imparting relevant knowledge that learners are invested in gaining. Think about what themes and domains of knowledge will best be imparted by a learning game. What do you learners need to know? What do they want? There’s nothing worse than investing time and energy into a game that learners simply don’t want, so be sure to capture and then trust your learners’ feedback during the prototyping cycle.

 

What’s next?

 

While developing learning games can feel like a risky endeavour, there’s lots you can do to develop a well-designed learning game that your learners love. Incorporating replayability, giving great feedback, considering immersive techniques, and knowing your players can all give you an edge.

What do you think? Did we miss something? Chat to us on Twitter or Linkedin.