I first met Karl Kapp in late 2012. I was a fan of one of his early books, Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos for Learning, which he published in 2007, and I’d also read and enjoyed his recently published The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.. Consequently, I was pretty thrilled when he visited the Knowledge Guru booth at DevLearn 2012 to learn about our newly-launched game engine. He was intrigued enough by its design to check out a session I co-presented with Scott Thomas of ExactTarget on the use of a Knowledge Guru-created game within ExactTarget.
Based on what Karl heard about ExactTarget’s business results, he asked me to contribute a case study to a forthcoming book he was writing with two other main co-authors, Rich Mesch and Lucas Blair. The book, titled The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook, was going to pick up where its predecessor left off. It would offer more in-depth “how-to’s” and include numerous examples of games or gamification being successfully used as a learning strategy.
I contributed my chapter about a year ago. A few weeks ago I was rewarded with a copy of the finished book. I read the entire book (not just my chapter), and I was impressed by the wealth of knowledge it contains. It offers detailed explanations of the terminology of games as well as solid definitions of what a learning game is and how a learning game differs from gamification of a learning solution. Here are several highlights or nuggets from various chapters. If you are serious about wanting to implement learning games or creating a gamification strategy, get the book.
Chapter 4 – Critical Questions for Creating an Interactive Learning Event (aka game)
The section on scoring will be hugely helpful to any new learning game designer. In my own experience, scoring is one of the most difficult aspects of game design to get right. This chapter offers excellent guidance. Karl helps the reader think through the measurement criteria that could be used within a game – and how to decide which ones are relevant for a particular learning game. He specifically speaks to being able to articulate the rationale for the scoring – and keeping it simple enough that the learner/player can understand how a game is scored. He also points out that optimal scoring matches the desired learning outcomes. There are questions and guidelines galore to help the designer figure out how to create a good scoring system within a game.
Chapter 5 – Foundational Elements
First, it’s helpful to a novice game designer to even know what constitutes a “foundational element:” things such as constructs, game mechanics, feedback, challenge, story. Secondly, there’s some key tips here that I’ve learned from experience are absolutely worth listening to:
- “Never add things to a serious game or simulation because you think they are cool.” This is a rookie mistake, and you don’t have to make it if you pay attention to this book. In a game, complexity can be fun to design – but complexity can be deadly to the learning process. Your learners/players get so consumed with trying to understand the rules that they have no brain space left for actually learning anything you intended. Yes, I’ve learned this the hard way! (I’ll speak to this at my upcoming session, “Lessons from the Trenches of Digital Game Design” at ASTD TechKnowledge 2014 and Training 2014.)
- You have to play games – lots of games – before you can realistically design a good game. Playing games exposes you to the array of game mechanics you can use. As the author notes, “Often when creating a game or simulation, you will…repurpose, recombine, or modify game mechanics from other games that already exist.” You can’t do this if you don’t have experience playing – and evaluating – a ton of games. I’m constantly amazed to find people in our learning game design workshops who don’t play games. It’s tough to design a game if you don’t play them frequently yourself.
- Feedback is one of the reasons games are such a powerful learning tool. As players play a game, they constantly get feedback on how well or poorly they are doing, and they get cues on what they can do to adjust their performance. The Fieldbook talks about the impact of feedback on the player and identifies a variety of feedback types that a designer can incorporate into a game. This section is going to be very helpful to the novice designer.
Chapter 6 – The Importance of Narrative/Context/Story
Story helps immerse a player into the game experience AND a story can also help a learner remember the key take-aways from a game experience long after play ends. The author reminds readers that good stories have a beginning, middle, and end and they chart a logical progression of conflict, resolution, and conclusion. This chapter includes a simple template for creating a story, a useful tool for novice and experienced designers alike.
Chapter 7 – Make the Case
This chapter summarizes the research on the efficacy of games as a learning solution. If you want details on a large array of studies you can find them within Chapter 7. For a brief summary, check out this infographic created by our team at Bottom-Line Performance, Inc.
Chapter 13 – Technology Tools
This is a useful chapter for organizations looking to discover what development tools are out there for creating serious games. The delineation between template-based authoring tools, game engines, and gamification platforms is particularly useful.
Chapters 15 – 22
Here you’ll find EIGHT (!) different stories of organizations who implemented a learning game or a gamification strategy related to a business initiative. Readers get the background on the business situation that led to a decision to create a game or gamified strategy, a description of the solution, a summary of the business results achieved, and lessons learned. For folks who need examples to help support their efforts to convince their own organizations to adopt the use of games these chapters will be very helpful.
I recommend you get the original book (Gamification of Learning and Instruction) and the Fieldbook if you want to have a robust package on your shelf re: learning game design and gamification of learning. You’ll use them again and again in either of these scenarios:
- You manage a learning function that wants to implement a game-based solution and you want to sell stakeholders on the idea of using a game or gamification.
- You are a designer and you want to build skill in creating learning games.