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When Learning Games Go Small: The Four Principles of Design

 

The education game market continues to grow rapidly, and mobile games are the dominant force within this market. Newzoo provides the insights for the generic games market; the Serious Play Conference released its annual report showcasing the huge growth specific to the education and corporate training sector. The compound annual growth rate in the U.S for corporate learning games will be over 20% between 2017 – 2022 and about 35% globally with the U.S. and India being the top two markets for serious game play. Newzoo predicts the overall mobile game market across all game types will grow 40% between now and 2020, a significant growth increase.


Want to learn more about mobile learning games? Join us for our upcoming webinar When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts on Tuesday, October 10th at 1:00 PM ET.


So… it makes sense for L&D personnel to consider what space mobile games (aka ones intended for play on a smartphone) might occupy in their company’s learning and development portfolio. A smartphone game is not just a shrunken version of a PC game –  just as a limo is not just a bigger mode of transport than a unicycle.

The user experience and design aspects one expects from a limo, and the intended use of the limo, differs widely from that of the unicycle – even though both are modes of transportation. So it is with learning games. The use case for a smartphone game differs from that of a PC game, and the user experience should be different, too. L&D people need to think about this. When learning games go small there are four quadrants of design skills involved.

It’s highly unlikely that a single individual will possess skills in all four quadrants. It’s also very likely that if you opt to go the route of mobile games within your organization, you will need to pull together a team to create your game. Understanding each quadrant helps you assemble the right team and do a good job evaluating the game design the team evolves.

Here’s a quick definition of each quadrant followed by a checklist of factors to consider within each quadrant:

  • User Experience (UX) Design – the framework and navigation design of your game; this framework makes it easy to learn, easy to use, and easy to add/build onto it if you need to roll out future enhancements.
  • User Interface (UI) Design – the graphical “look and feel” of the game; it provides the aesthetics and helps create a mood or “feel” to your game (light-hearted, scary, humorous, intense, etc.). Lots of people think UX and UI mean the same thing. They don’t.
  • Instructional design – the design and structure of the experience to meet specific learning needs for a specific audience or audiences.
  • Game design – the design of the play experience; it includes the core dynamics of your game, rules, and game elements that all work together to enable players to achieve a game goal and have fun doing it.

Instructional Design Checklist

Does your game:

  • Have a clear learning goal and measurable learning objectives focused on a specific learner?
  • Tap into learner motivation?
  • Manage cognitive load by eliminating irrelevant or extraneous content?
  • Provide relevant practice?
  • Give specific, timely feedback?
  • Trigger emotion that can help with long-term retention of learning content?
  • Provide spaced repetition to help with long-term retention of learning content?
  • Use story(ies) (again, for help with long-term retention of learning content as well as involvement during learning experience)?

Game Design Checklist

Does your game:

  • Provide players with an intriguing goal or challenge?
  • Match the interests or player types of your target players?
  • Stick with one or two core dynamics?
  • Provide clear rules?
  • Use appropriate game elements from ones such as chance, strategy, cooperation, competition, aesthetics, theme, story, resources, rewards, levels?
  • Make the scoring relevant, motivating, and understandable?
  • Balance game complexity and difficulty for your player and the time you anticipate them playing it; not too easy or too little complexity, but not too hard or too much complexity either.

UX Design Checklist

UX best practice is that you design to the smallest screen. This means that your design supports these attributes on the smallest phone size players are likely to use. We draw the line at the iPhone 5, which is 1136 x 640 pixels or 4-inches diagonally. Good UX means you:

  • Have legible text.
  • Have touchable targets that a typical adult finger can easily succeed at using.
  • Cut the clutter.
  • Focus on one key action or use per screen.
  • Make the navigation intuitive.
  • Make the experience seamless if intended for multiple devices.
  • Cater to contrast.
  • Design for how people hold/use their phone.
  • Minimize the need to type.

Attend to the small things to make a big difference.

UI Design Checklist

This checklist is the smallest, yet the aesthetics or “look/feel” of your game has a major impact on uptake and continued game play (which translates into best learning assuming you executed well on the instructional design checklist items). When creating your UI design, make sure your UI is:

  • Consistent. Treat every button of the same type in the exact same fashion. Treat all screens of a single “type” the same way, etc. Use fonts and text labels for things consistently.
  • Designed to your user – and not to your personal preferences. Example: While you may love anime art, your corporate user may find it insulting or trivial.
  • Not reinventing standards; use what’s common and comfortable. There is a thing called “heuristics” for a reason. (Note: UX/UI heuristics are often bundled into a single list.)
  • An enhancement of the focus and not the focus of your game experience.
  • Forgiving of user mistakes with lots of prompts and helpful guides.
  • Clear on giving users feedback about what to do and where to go.

Want More Information?

If you want to know more, here are some great resources:

  • Sign up for a companion webinar to this post that will occur on October 10th – When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts.
  • Download a handy checklist for each quadrant of design.
  • Check out my book, coauthored with Dr. Karl Kapp – Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games, published by ATD Press 2017.
  • And/or join Karl and me in Chicago on September 20-21 for a 1.5-day workshop on learning game design or join me at DevLearn for a 1-day workshop on October 24th.

You Built a Great Learning Game… Why Aren’t You Getting Results?

You built a wonderful learning game. So why aren’t you reaping results from it? Before we dive in and diagnose why your learners didn’t learn, grab a piece of real or digital paper. I’m going to ask you to write down things and answer some questions.

Before I do, take 30 seconds and write down everything you need to get done today. Then write down everything you need to do this week. Did you have “complete an eLearning course,” or “play (insert name) learning game that my boss recommended to me” on your list? Perhaps you do – and perhaps you fully intend to do that course or play that game.

But….

  • What barriers hinder your ability to spend time in a formal learning activity? The activity could be an online course, a learning game, or even reading blog posts on a particular topic. How many unplanned things are likely to creep in today or tomorrow that will turn good intentions into fantasy?
  • If you do complete the learning activity, how much “think time” will be available to you today or next week to reflect on what you learn?

I assume you are reading this post because you are a training manager, a sales manager, or some type of learning and development professional who produces learning games or learning solutions for others.

So the really important question is: How do you think your target learners would answer all these questions?

Everyone of us in the work world has the tsunami that we call the “work day” and our “personal life.” Most of us have days that start between 5:30 and 7 a.m. and often don’t end until 11 p.m. We spin lots of plates and our learners are no different.

However, unlike us, they may not be super excited by all things connected to learning new things. They may actually be resistant to learning new things. Resentful of learning new things. Stressed out or fearful of learning new things. Simply not interested in learning new things because their heads are so full of what needs their attention right now.

What are you going to do about it?

Creating a relevant, well-designed learning solution, unfortunately, is not even close to enough. You have to tear a page from a marketer’s book and develop a full-blown implementation plan. These are the three ingredients you need to produce broad-spectrum results from your learning game:

Most of you will create the first item (a great game), but fail to fully map out logistics or think about having to market the game. There is a fallacy that a great game sells itself, and the game itself will intrigue learners enough to motivate game play.

Think back to the start of this blog and that to-do list you wrote down as well as the “unplanned things” that derail the to-do list. Playing a learning game is not going to be high on most learners’ list without some planning on your part.

If you do things right and include all three elements of a good implementation strategy, you greatly increase the odds of people playing. Being able to put together those three elements requires you to do a bit of legwork and info gathering.

Getting Started

So before you start creating your game or crafting any strategies, make sure you ask – and get answers – to questions like these:

  1. How does the game help achieve business and learning goals?
  2. What are the learner/manager/stakeholder anticipated reactions (positive and negative)? How do these reactions influence messages you need to deliver as part of implementation?
  3. What realities exist in learner population that affect implementation? How do these influence game elements that you emphasize/leverage? How do they affect logistics/deployment?
  4. What effort, skill, time, and planning is required to design, produce? How does this impact your timeline and what you can produce?
  5. What ongoing effort and creativity are required to maintain long-term interest in ongoing game play or to keep things “fresh” over long-term?
  6. Are there constraints that limit or direct decisions on frequency?
  7. What analytics and data can the game solution provide to showcase benefits and cost-effectiveness? What metrics do we want to see? How should data be filtered for analysis? (If you can’t answer #1 in this list, you won’t be able to answer these questions.)
  8. Who needs to see this data and how will data be used?

How to create a learning game experience that gets performance results

1. Create a well-designed game. This means the game:

  • Is relevant to learners’ needs and actually has value for them. The game goal and the play experience clearly link to the skill or knowledge the player will find helpful to acquire. (Note that I said player will find it helpful. It’s not enough for someone else, such as you or a stakeholder, to believe it will be helpful. The player has to find value in it.) The design choices you’ve made have a learning purpose to them. (Example: Using chance in the game to mirror something in the real-world that learners cannot control.)
  • Has a complexity level that matches learners’ use case. (Example: Don’t create a multi-hour play experience with tons of rules for a learner who needs a game they can quickly get into/out of. Make game play extend over periods of time rather than all at once).
  • Uses game elements that appeal to the the player types you have playing your game. (Consider Amy Kim’s social action matrix to figure out your player types and what game elements might appeal to those types.)
2. Plan out the logistics required to deploy the game effectively.

This means you’ve thought about what it will take to get your game into learners’ hands – and mapped the process out step-by-step. You have a rollout schedule that includes:

  • Timeline and key activities for pre-launch, launch, and post-launch of your game.
  • Specifics of distribution/delivery. (How will they locate/download your game? On what device? With what possible browsers? Is download required or can they stream the content?)
  • Tactics for mitigating risks/barriers to play (Yes, you have to think about the fact that they have many, many distractors in their lives. You also have to decide how you intend to grab their attention despite those distractions.)
3. Develop and implement a marketing/communication plan.

Those tactics you ID’d for mitigating risks in Item #2 help shape the marketing tactics you design and deploy. You need to think and act like a marketer:

  • Brand your learning experience; use imagery and a logo to burn your game’s promotion into the minds of your learners. When I say “Coke” I suspect you all either think of the logo itself or a bottle/can of coke. You can literally see it in your minds. How do you do that for your game?
  • Consider incentives. Who pays full price for a Coke? How many of you love a coupon or a “free prize.” An incentive adds some spice and some fun. If the initiative you are working on really matters, then incent it. It doesn’t have to be a huge incentive, it just needs to grab attention.
  • Map out a communication plan for each of your targets – including the stakeholders as well as the learners. Figure out what the message(s) need to be for each target, the timing of those messages, and the distribution channel.

ExactTarget and Johnson and Johnson both had highly successful game implementations because they created strategies that used all three components outlined above. Here are a few images that represent some of what they presented to their learners. Don’t waste all the time, energy, and $$ you spent creating your amazing learning game by failing to plan out implementation. Make sure you get the return on investment your company deserves and should expect.

Exact Target embedded a game within a larger experience and promoted it on its Intranet. It regularly updated messages, brought attention to those on the leaderboards, and eventually awarded someone the title of “MobileConnect Guru.”

 

J&J had a focused, weekly campaign. They gave accolades to weekly winners, shining a spotlight on them. Like ExactTarget, they integrated the game within a larger curriculum.

Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning: What’s the Difference?

gamification-vs-game-based-learning

Every year, the NCAA invites people from all over the world to participate in one of college sports greatest spectacles: March Madness. If you are reading this from the United States, chances are high that you have filled out a NCAA men’s basketball bracket before.

You know how it works: participants are given an online tool that lets them create bracket groups so they can compete with friends, family and colleagues. You choose which college basketball teams you think will win each round of play. For each team you get right, you earn points and for each team you get wrong, you lose the potential to earn points in the future. The goal is to earn the most points and pick the correct tournament champion.

In 2015, the American Gaming Association and GfK Custom Research of North America estimated that almost 40 million Americans filled out more than 70 million March Madness brackets. The average bet per bracket was $29, totaling over $2 billion.

So what keeps people playing year after year? The answer is simple: it’s fun! The NCAA takes the essence of what makes games so appealing (challenge, risk and reward), uncovers the mechanics that make them work (personalization, rankings and leaderboards) and applies these mechanics to the tournament.

NCAA tournament pools are a form of gamification. The game of basketball is, obviously, a game. And games that also have a learning goal are called learning games. Using games for learning is called game-based learning. If you’re a bit confused, there’s no need to worry! You can easily spot the differences between gamification and game-based learning with a little practice.


Want to design your own learning game? Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp share helpful game design tips in this recorded webinar.

Gamification

The application of these game-like elements to the NCAA tournament is known as gamification. Simply put, gamification is the application of game mechanics to a non-game activity. Filling out a bracket is not a game in of itself. But when you assign points based on correct picks and add an element of competition, it becomes gamified.

Karl Kapp describes gamification as “an emergent approach to instruction which facilitates learning and encourages motivation through the use of game elements, mechanics and game-based thinking.” The purpose is to engage and motivate learners to become active participants in their own learning process.

In order to gamify something, you must first understand the various elements that make up a game. For example, a game’s mechanics are the rules and procedures that guide the player and the game response to the player’s moves or actions. Through the mechanics you create, you define how the game is going to work for the people who play it. There are also many game elements you can include to help keep people engaged. The choice of what to include should be deliberate. With learning games, you should consider how each element supports the learning process. Here are 12 elements often used to gamify content:

game elements chart

Gamification Examples

You can apply both game mechanics and game elements to a variety of contexts when you create learning solutions. Take a look at a few of these samples:

  • This curriculum included an illustrated map of the business process that was used to gamify the course. Learners journey through the business making stops along the way to identify the hazards and learn how to stay safe on their sites.
  • In this curriculum, we designed a gamified blended learning curriculum for a new product launch. The curriculum is both gamified as a whole and contains numerous competitive and collaborative games.

Game-Based Learning (also known as Learning Games and Serious Games)

Game-based learning uses learning games to achieve an instructional goal. If you hear someone discussing game-based learning, learning games or serious games, you can assume they generally mean the same thing.

What makes the game of basketball different from a pure learning game? The answer is a learning goal. Learning games have both a game goal (what players must do to win) and a learning goal (what players are to learn through playing the game). The term game-based learning describes the use of games for learning.

Oftentimes, people use gamification and game-based learning interchangeably. But when you take a closer look, the two have certain characteristics that make them unique. Unlike gamification, game-based learning involves an actual game that helps people learn. Players will either know something or be able to do something as a result of playing the game.

Game-Based Learning Examples

Below, you can see a few examples of games we’ve created.

  • We partnered with TE Connectivity to create a mobile learning game for smartphones. The app helps distributors learn about their customers, and the applicable products for each customer so they can position the right products with the right customers.
  • This organization is tasked with creating Information Asset Protection (IAP) policies and procedures to protect sensitive information, and to educate employees on how to follow them. As part of the curriculum, learners played an arcade-style game where they score points by identifying strong and weak passwords.
  • Our Knowledge Guru platform is a great example of game-based learning and why it works. Each Knowledge Guru game has its own unique combination of points, badges, leaderboards, mini-games, story, aesthetics, power-ups and more.

Access the “Play to Learn” Webinar

Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp introduced nine steps to effective learning game design in a live webinar on March 28th. Attendees heard their perspective on the three most critical and overlooked learning game design steps and had the opportunity to participate in Q&A.

The Importance of Aesthetics in Serious Games

importance-of-aesthetics_Q220140404

First impressions matter in almost every situation – including game play.

Aesthetics are a huge part of the game play experience. If the game doesn’t LOOK appealing, then players won’t want to play even if the game has a great game goal and rules. Conversely, a game that may be “just okay” from a game play perspective can be elevated by strong aesthetics. This fact can be a plus in learning games where content might be a bit dry but a great theme and aesthetics can help create an enjoyable experience.

Compare these two game boards. Which one makes you more curious about playing the game?

FirstProtoypeAPAGameBoard copy

FinalGameBoard_APA

What about these game characters and images? Do they make you curious and want to play? What other information is being shared via the aesthetics in the game? (Answer: Progression, topic, what to do next, theme, overarching mood, etc.)

BizTheme_PathSelection

Racing_PathSelection

Fairytale_PathSelection

Retro_PathSelection

Aesthetics do several things for you in a game (any game – including serious games).

For example:

  • Set a mood and reinforce a theme or a concept
  • Immerse the player into the game experience and help them suspend reality so they can play the game.
  • Offer cues that can guide performance and communicate a player’s status and progress.
  • Facilitate understanding of game play, making it easier for a player to figure out what to do.

Are you in the position of hiring out game design and development? Terrific! Our team would love to chat with you.

If, however, you are NOT in this position and are instead a team of one, here are some resources for you. If your skill set doesn’t reside in the graphic design arena, my first vote is for you to hire a graphic designer to help you. The hourly rate for a solo freelancer is typically around $75/hour. Ten to 20 hours of a graphic designer’s time can probably get you all the art assets you need for a basic game.

If you have no budget for a graphic designer, here are a couple of other options to check out for digital art assets:

http://opengameart.org — has some nice graphics bundles you can download and use in your digital games.

http://elearningtemplates.com/elearning-activities/ — has cutout people and graphics as well as some “game” templates (they aren’t really games, but are gamified activities.)

You can also check out this site to purchase game components for board games or card games at a reasonable price. Available items include tokens, dice, game boards, cards, chips, money, etc: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/parts

How to Connect Games to a Corporate Learning Curriculum

connect-games

Thinking about using games for learning? You might want to question your motivations, first.

Using a serious game or gamification platform in corporate learning can be a great option, but it’s not the the right solution for every situation. We often ask our customers and clients some simple questions to determine if a game fits their needs:

  • Are your current learning solutions presenting challenges to people?
  • Do your solutions provide strong feedback?
  • Do your solutions motivate people to engage?

Challenges, motivation, and feedback are all characteristics of games that make them ideal in a corporate learning curriculum. And while other types of learning solutions can also provide challenge, motivation and feedback… games often do them best.

Behavior Change… or Check the Box?

So much “training” organizations create is really just a “check the box” exercise in company communication. In these situations, are games and gamification really needed? If we really are just complying with a procedure and are not attached to the outcome, it might actually make better business sense to not use an innovative learning solution.

On the other hand, if routine communication is important, we might seek a way to gamify the process and make people more engaged in the communication we are sending out.

Bottom line: if you don’t really care what people learn or remember, games are not the right choice. When job performance and retention do matter, you should consider game-based solutions. Let’s look at some scenarios:

When to Use Games in Corporate Learning

Here are four situations that take advantages of the innate strengths games have as engagement tools. They represent either use of a game or a gamification of the learning experience:

  • People need to know something “cold” (e.g. from memory, sort of like multiplication tables) and it’s not information that is enjoyable or easy – on its own – to learn.
  • People’s hearts and emotions need to be affected in order to open them up to new ways of viewing something or understanding something.
  • People need a safe way to evaluate their skills and behaviors – and to improve them. People who think they are stellar at project management can play a project management game and get an entirely new insight into how they ACTUALLY behave when faced with constraints or pressures.
  • People need ongoing motivation in order to stay engaged in a long-term endeavor (a certification process, a long-term company initiative).

Example: We worked with a global company this year to prepare sales reps for the launch of a new product AND their first-ever Android Smartphones. We created a mobile game that helped them build their product knowledge as well as build skills in navigating the phone and accessing information. They loved competing, achieving new levels, and seeing their scores go up. The game’s challenges and feedback kept them highly engaged, and by the end of the game, they were adept at linking product features and benefits to specific customer questions and objections AND in using their phones.

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4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning (Free Download)

4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning

A growing body of research supports the use of serious games in the workplace. And thanks to a year of successful implementations in corporate settings, some great case studies now point the way for organizations ready to use games for learning.

Whether you want to use a true serious game, a gamified solution, or a combination of the two… it’s a great time to do so.

While research shows that people learn more from games than other learning solutions, many L&D practicioners still do not know why games work… so they avoid using games entirely.

If you think you want to use a game for learning, you first must become familiar with the types of “fun” in games, what’s required for real learning to happen, and the ways games can link the two.

We’ve created a new guide to help you accomplish this. The content, researched and written by Knowledge Guru creator (and BLP president) Sharon Boller, takes the mystery out of using serious games in the enterprise. It’s a simple thing, really: become familiar with the ways people have fun in games, identify the common principles all effective learning solutions share, and then carefully map the two together.

And once  you map the “fun” elements of your serious game to the elements needed for learning, you’ll also want to employ some research-based learning principles to actually help people remember the content after they’ve learned it. Are your game mechanics and game elements actually mapped to the cognitive tasks learners need to perform on the job? Are you taking advantage of the latest research on how the human brain best commits knowledge to long-term memory?

The guide, titled 4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning, is available as a free download.

4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning

The 12 Corporate Learning Content Areas… and Where Games Fit

Corporate Learning Content Areas

When it comes to game-based learning, 2014 is the year of theory moving into practice. An increasing number of organizations are planning initiatives to include games in their learning solutions. The research has been validated and plans are being set.

But if you’ve never designed a game before, or tried to include a game in your training, where do you begin?

The answer, of course, depends on the type of training you are developing. The 2013 ASTD State of the Industry report includes a wonderful table with the twelve most common content areas found in corporate training. Some of these content areas are rather broad, but they are a great starting point for visualizing the types of training we frequently develop. The content areas are shown below:

12 corporate learning content areas

The type of game you might create will vary widely for each content area. I’ve included a general suggestion or two for each content area below, but the list is not exhaustive! Use the suggestions as a starting point.

Managerial and Supervisory:

Soft-skills training often (but not always) works best in face-to-face situations. Why not use a role playing game to give learners situational practice? Rote Q&A, points, and badges will be of less value.

Mandatory and Compliance:

This is the sort of information we need to know, or our organization needs us to know. Since it often requires memorization, compliance training can be tedious. Consider a game that puts the content in a fun setting and employs some research-based learning principles to help people memorize the information faster.

Processes, Procedures, and Business Practices:

Processes and procedures are often foundational knowledge, just like compliance. Gamifying the process of basic memorization will work well here, but make sure you add context when possible. Even a game centered around Q&A can have context if you add highly relevant scenario questions.

Profession or Industry-Specific:
This topic is admittedly broad, so our suggestion for a game should really be “it depends.” Assuming the subject matter is applied, your game must be a realistic simulation of the work environment, or at least of the cognitive task being performed.
Sales:
Sales training is often face to face because of the interpersonal element. Why not try a tabletop board game? If you need to train virtually, some vendors offer highly immersive digital games where players hone their negotiation and persuasion skills. These approaches can also be helpful, as long as they are not overly simplistic. Since you are designing a game for sales reps, why not make it competitive?
IT and Systems:
The subject is highly technical, and the information often must be memorized. Give learners a game that rewards them for being thorough and helps them reinforce their knowledge through the game’s mechanics.
New Employee Orientation:
New hire training is often basic and foundational. Elements like badges and leaderboards are helpful here because new employees can see how they stack up with others and even form some social connections.
Interpersonal Skills:
A tabletop board game is ideal for soft skills training… especially one that involves scenarios and active communication with other players.
Executive Development:
So many things go into executive development. Resource management and territory acquisition games are excellent for developing strategic thinking.
Customer Service:
A simple card game with customer scenarios can work well here. If the customer service environment is often rushed (such as for food service workers), consider adding a timed element to the game.
Basic Skills:
Basic skills are another type of training that often falls under “foundational knowledge.” Points, badges, and leaderboards are a good start, as you are trying to keep people motivated to learn what they need while knowing that the content itself is not so exciting.
Other (Quality, Product Knowledge):
People need to know it… and this type of training often involves either memorization or knowing where to locate the right information when needed. The game should either employ learning principles that help people memorize quickly (spaced learning, repetition, feedback), or reinforce where they should go to locate the information.
use-games-for-learning

DevLearn Post-Conference Resources

We had a great deal of fun talking games and gamification at DevLearn 2013. Whether you attended Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp’s learning game design workshop, visited the Knowledge Guru® booth in the Expo, or attended our learning stage session on ways you can build your own games, we are grateful for the opportunity to connect and share with you.

In the learning stage session I gave with Leanne Batchelder, Powerful Learning Games You Can Build Yourself, I called out some specific resources we would send to you after the conference. Here they are:

Scroll of Knowledge: Game-Based Learning: Why Does it Work?

This downloadable PDF outlines the four requirements needed for learning, then maps them to game elements and mechanics that match. The scroll is a great introduction to the world of games. If you’d like to see the sources and research studies associated with the scroll, contact us.

View Game Based Learning Scroll

Event Slides: Powerful Learning Games You Can Build Yourself

Our learning stage session summarized the recent research and case studies surrounding the use of games for learning, then showed you how you can use Knowledge Guru to build your own learning games. See the slides below.

Business Cases for Serious Games

5 Business Cases that Call for Serious Games

No matter what learning solution you think you want to produce, it’s important to identify the learning need (and business need) before starting a project. Do you really need a new gamification platform, or are you trying to follow the latest trends? Is mobile learning a must-have in your organization, is it just another upper management whim?

Serious games are worth a look when you want to improve performance in an organization, but one size does not fit all. In a recent blog post on GamaSutra, Andrzej Marcewski points out that “serious games” is too broad of a term to actually be useful. Saying you need a “serious game” can mean so many things, from a simulator to a teaching game to a “meaningful game” as Marcewski puts it.

Our definition of serious games is the same as what you’ll find on Wikipedia: “games with a purpose beyond pure entertainment.” This definition is indeed broad, and means a wide variety of games, with various levels of immersion, can all share the name serious game.

It’s easy to imagine how simulating an operating room or a cockpit can be used to help people practice, but what about situations where games and simulations don’t seem as obvious? We find that many organizations are faced with a problem more fundamental than helping people practice complex skills: helping employees acquire basic knowledge. For employees, it’s usually not fun to do this.

Business Cases for Serious Games

Here are five common business situations where a serious game can help:

  1. Your product launch cycles are too fast, with little time to train sales and support teams: A well-designed serious game that helps people learn product facts and features can save significant time and money over traditional training methods. Instead of emailing a series of PDFs and Powerpoints, or making people sit through a boring webinar, design a fun game that allows players to learn and memorize the material as they play.
  2. Your new hire training is boring and ineffective: Most people dread the obligatory courses and presentations they must endure when starting a new job. Other companies don’t have much of a system for training new people at all. If the onboarding process is not standardized, employees will end up with major knowledge gaps later in their jobs. Consider incorporating a serious game into new hire training to make learning company facts, policies and procedures more palatable.
  3. Customer-facing roles in your organization must know (and easily recite) large amounts of complex information: It’s important to help people acquire an in-depth knowledge base in a field, but it is also extremely helpful to show people any go-to “talking points” they need to help them perform better right away. Once again, a serious game focused on the memorization of facts can help ease this challenge.
  4. You are switching over to a new IT system that no one knows how to use: IT rollouts are a huge headache for basically everyone. Most of the time, we learn the ropes of a new system by muddling through lots of trial and error. A serious game can make the experience of learning a new system much more efficient.
  5. You must comply with a new safety certification that no one knows anything about: Once again, a serious game designed to help people memorize and retain information can help you here. Even when employees understand the importance of regulatory compliance, they rarely want to take the time to learn the ins and outs of a set of procedures. A serious game makes a ton of sense when dealing with OSHA, HIPAA and other compliance situations.

Simulations and complex games are often top of mind when people talk about serious games. There are plenty of places on the web to learn more about these types of games, while the more painstaking task of helping people acquire basic information often gets overlooked. Use the five business cases described above to inspire you as you look to find ways to apply serious games in your organization.

Our own Knowledge Guru game engine is designed to help people acquire knowledge. You can learn exactly how it works by scheduling a demo.

Using Game Elements to Improve Learning Outcomes

Sharon Boller, Knowledge Guru® creator and BLP prez, has written a new white paper on Game Mechanics and Game Elements. I gave some of my own general ideas on game mechanics in a previous post, and this one’s all about game elements. Sharon identifies 12 common ones in the white paper:

  • Conflict
  • Cooperation
  • Competition
  • Strategy
  • Chance
  • Aesthetics (ooo, pretty!)
  • Theme
  • Story
  • Resources
  • Time
  • Rewards
  • Levels
  • Scoring

Are these the only game elements? Of course not. They ARE the most common ones, and chances are you could analyze any game you’ve played and find at least a few of these. The white paper goes into detail for each one of these elements, covering a few key points:

  • What type of learners/players will respond well to each element.
  • What learning objectives work best with each element.
  • What questions you should ask as a learning designer when attempting to use each element.
  • Specific examples of game elements found in commercial games, as well as learning games we have created.

No matter what game elements you use, always think about how they will work together with your game mechanics to maximize the learning experience for your players. You’ll need to play test a few times to get everything just right, but that is just a part of game design.

Learn More in Our White Paper

Learning Game Design White Paper - free downloadUsing Game Mechanics and Game Elements in Learning Games is 25 pages of specific advice and examples for creating learning games. It’s designed as a practical guide rather than a collection of theories. You can use it to make your learning game design efforts better right away. Download it now.