5 Easily Edible Tips: Gaming design is good learning design

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Current games (think Xbox, PC and PlayStation) are often long, complex and difficult. Why do so many people play them? Games inherently follow sound learning principles. This can be seen when by the time a gamer reaches the most complex parts of a game, how to control their character and explore the environment has become second nature, and they can completely concentrate on their mission.

There are a lot of reasons for this, from the schema built over years of playing other games, recall and consistent design across platforms through to what we like to describe as the Triple J Learning Design. If you haven’t read our blogs or met us before, Triple J Learning may be foreign. What I mean by this is a very easily edible tip (that must mean it’s good!) using The Learning Hook’sJust in time? Just enough? And Just for me?’ Triple J Learning Design.

The following tips below mostly take a leaf out of the awesomely designed gaming design book and attach that leaf (quite rightly) to our outrageously good design for eLearning book.


Tip 1 – Challenge the learner

When we’re spoon fed, we only learn the shape of the spoon – not how to feed ourselves. We need to overcome adversity and solve problems to really learn for the long term.

Games are challenging – but they challenge us over time and build up in complexity. Lend this idea for your eLearning. Success breeds success, start with the easy wins, the low hanging fruit, and then increase the challenge and support the learner to climb the tree and grab the harder to reach fruit. eLearning should never mean eBoring. Learners must be challenged in order for them to learn.


Tip 2 – Don’t choke the learner, they’ll groan… and then forget

Unfortunately, some online courses have a huge list of instructions at the start of the training. It makes me think of choking on instructions or drinking through a fire hose – not a lot goes in! All the instructions at the start of the training are just wasted, as you won’t remember them when you actually get to the point you need them.

Games provide gamers instructions and complexity in a staggered approach. Only when you first need to unleash that awesome propeller ability from your hat for a super-duper jump do you hear about the ability. Until then, you had no idea your character in the game could do that – because you didn’t need to know. Due to this Just in time and Just enough approach to design, games become amazingly complex without the user even knowing it – they can just concentrate on the game (the content).

Use this strategy in your learning design. Provide guidance only when it’s needed, search your storyboards for the ‘upfront blah’ and remove it – including ridiculously long lists of learning objectives (is that a ‘white elephant’?).


Tip 3 – Learning objectives and relevance is critical, but it’s not ‘design by rote’

It’s a waste of time to list off every single learning objective in the training on the first screen. Put simply, who cares? I think sometimes this happens as it’s unfortunately become ‘rote’ in the designer’s toolkit. It’s a misconstrued version of the gospel of Gagne’s nine steps. Another reason is (and unfortunately) you might be working with an eLearning vendor that is more aligned to rolling training off a factory conveyor belt than truly considering your custom requirements. The principle of explicitly stating Learning Objectives and aims etc is sound, but we need to follow it in a way that considers the Triple J – is it Just in time? Just enough? And Just for me?

Games do this exceptionally well. They don’t really have learning objectives, but they have missions within every chapter, mini-missions within the missions and they have an overall aim, that’s usually told through a story. Games provide a great sense of achievement when we complete a mission, which helps us hunger for the next.

Ok – so a long way to get to the tip: Target your learning objectives very specifically to a topic. Keep them short, interesting even, and let learners know what they need to do to achieve them.


Tip 4 – Gamify skills practice – addiction can be a good thing

Games can be addictive, but can learning? And is it a good thing if it is? I think so, but we need to be careful not to make a peripheral element of our training the addictive bit. Here’s an example of a really creative, hugely effective and absolutely efficient way to improve skills training through learning addiction.

A bank rolls out training for cashiers to stop processing bad cheques, which is costing the bank time and money. The first training that goes out is a standard eLearning course that covers off on what bad cheques are, how to identify them and what to do if you find one (it probably had 15 objectives at the start and plenty of instructions upfront too). The training was an even worse waste of time than the bad cheques slipping through.

The good news story is that using a simple game mechanism, this changed. The training was revamped to still outline the knowledge component of what bad cheques are and how they affect the business, but it also had a game for learners to challenge each other to spot the errors in cheques in the fastest time possible. Cashiers skills in this area improved dramatically, the training saved the bank more than 100 fold in revenue than the cost of the training and customers were happier as bad cheques were rectified much more efficiently.

So the tip is to use addictive ‘mini-games’ in your training that are focused on a skill that’s relevant to your learners and business – practice makes perfect!


Tip 5 – Do you have a tip or reflection to add?

Would welcome your top tip to finish this one off as a Top 5 list is really not good enough when there’s only four…

‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.’ Oliver Wendell Holmes

For more eLearning, visit www.learninghook.com.au

1 Comment

  1. Brenden Carter says:

    Just reading this a couple of years after publishing and had a thought to add. Problem solving can be THE catalyst for pull learning. Good game design can create a serious hook for learners – thus pushing them to ‘pull’ their own learning to solve the problem or take them to the ‘next level’.

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