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Help! I Can’t Design a Learning Game

By Rose Pilgrim, Senior Instructional Designer 

“I like the idea of having my learners play a game, but I don’t know how to design one.” 

Gamification can not only make learning fun, but it can also increase motivation, strengthen learning retention, and improve problem-solving skills. But designing a game may be a bit intimidating if you haven’t done it before. As an instructional designer, you may think you can’t design a game, but many of the questions you ask when you design an eLearning course or an ILT course are the same questions you ask when you design a learning game.  

In this blog, we will look at some of those questions and how they will improve the game design process. 

Who is your audience? 

You need to have a clear idea of who you are talking to when designing a game, just as you would for an eLearning course. Knowing the characteristics of your audience and what would motivate them to make a change is particularly important in game design. Is your audience curious, independent, or eager to please?  

All people respond to a mixture of motivators, so developing a player profile that describes most of your audience members will help you decide on the sort of game that will appeal to them.  

What does the employer want the training to accomplish? 

Effective learning design focuses on changes a business wants to achieve, so it is important to develop measurable business objectives that define the goals of the course. This is also what you do for game design. A game that lacks business objectives is like a boat without anyone steering it. Who knows where it will go?  

What new thing(s) do the participants need to be able to do? 

You already know how to write learning objectives for eLearning/ILT that outline the behaviors/skills learners need to adopt. Game design also requires learning objectives, so you can develop activities to support them.  

In a way, games can encourage desired behaviors better than more traditional learning. They require participants to solve a big challenge (and often several smaller obstacles along the way). These allow participants to absorb and practice behaviors or skills described in the learning objectives in ways that immerse them in a situation (realistic or fanciful) and challenge them to achieve success.     

What activities are included and how do they advance learning? 

You may have noticed instructional designers sometimes insert relatively random activities in eLearning/ILT into a course to keep the learner “engaged.” We all struggle with writing activities that spring naturally from the content. But in a game environment it’s a bit easier because activities are intrinsic to the format.  

Similarly, eLearning/ILT benefits from storytelling, but such stories tend to be short and make a single point. Courses often move back and forth between storytelling and lecturing. In contrast, effective games are built around a single, ongoing story. Participants learn desired behaviors and skills by encountering specific situations where they must use them to succeed. 

Is it fun? 

Ok, this isn’t a question we typically ask ourselves. But maybe we should!  

It should be fun to map out how you want your game to unfold, decide which gaming elements to include, and identify obstacles to overcome. And, hopefully, your game will be fun for the learner, too. 

By asking the questions above - questions that you already know - you are well on your way to designing a great learning game! 

Want to talk more about this? Leave a comment below or reach out to us at JLS@judge.com. Our team of creative rock stars are ready to help!  

Topics : Article, Instructional Design, Judge Learning Solutions, learning game, learning game design

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