How Can We Incorporate Gaming into our Instructional Designs?

I had posted previously about a workgroup formed to explore game-based learning in my organization. Even though the actual project was cancelled and the workgroup disbanded, I’ve still had conversations with colleagues and team mates about the use of games in a learning organization. 

One of the first conversations focused almost exclusively on technology, tools, authoring programs … as well as ‘can we get or buy something?’ and the like. I pushed back on this … this is the wrong focus for any first conversation about gaming and learning. 

“So, what would you propose we look at first?” came the reply. … fair enough.

I think it important, first of all, to know how individuals actually learn in a game … not from a cognitive science point of view, but look at how a game’s design facilitates learning within the game itself. And then figure out how to incorporate these same design principles into our instructional designs. We could incorporate these principles without any focus on technology or software or authoring tools and the like.

And there are (I’m willing to bet) many of these principles we could incorporate with very little effort. For instance, games use conventions of choice (being able to choose your character type or weapon), controls (the mechanics of navigating the game and controlling your character/avatar), story and the like. We could fairly easily inject these principles into our instructional designs.

For instance, how do I learn how to use the game and its controls?
This can be incorporated into, let’s say, the typical “how to use this web-based training program” lesson/topic (of which it seems nearly every WBT I’ve taken all include).

From a game perspective, there might be many many ways I will need to move the camera, move my character, use items, etc. I recently completed Fable II (awesome game, by the way!) – and there were so many controls available to me that I had to learn in order to complete the game.  

But a good game only introduces what I need to know when I need to know it. When I first played an Indiana Jones game on the Playstation 2, a single sentence appeared on screen: “Move the right stick forward to walk.” That was it! 

I then had to walk forward along a path for a short while – and then I came upon a rock ledge. A single sentence appeared, “Hold the right stick forward to climb the ledge.” And so I did.

After walking some more I get on a bridge spanning a large gorge. Oops! The bridge has a gap in it. Not to worry – a new sentence appeared, “Press X to jump.” 
And so on.

The point being that I was given the necessary “how to” instruction at the moment I needed to learn it and use it.

Imagine if the game had, instead, a multi-screen tutorial that taught me ALL of the controls in one fell swoop. I would have to sit through an exhaustive series of what to press on my controller to get Indiana Jones to do everything I may need at some point in the future. Chances are, however, I would forget what to do at some critical point because of the information dump.

However, when I take a web-based training program I am subjected to an initial lesson that includes all the information on all the buttons, navigation, mouseovers, etc. I will encounter throughout the training. Never mind that I won’t encounter some or many of these features right away. But because I got this info dump at the very beginning, I will likely forget what to do three lessons later when I come upon some feature that I hadn’t needed to use until then.

Take a cue from good game design … introduce a feature to the user at the exact moment she must first use it. Make it simple and direct – a single sentence suffices. And then allow her to use that feature for a short while before introducing the next feature.

This principle doesn’t require any new technology or tool or system. And we could easily incorporate this into our work right now.


About Rory

I make my home in the central part of the Garden State along with my family. When I'm not working as an Instructional Designer (focusing mostly on Web-Based learning ... and other eLearning technologies) or researching something, I'm found at home playing computer or video games. Among other things, I volunteer as a choir member and catechist for 8th graders at my parish.
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4 Responses to How Can We Incorporate Gaming into our Instructional Designs?

  1. Cammy Bean says:

    “Take a cue from good game design … introduce a feature to the user at the exact moment she must first use it. Make it simple and direct – a single sentence suffices. And then allow her to use that feature for a short while before introducing the next feature.”

    Such a simple concept! I will definitely think about how to apply this in future courses. I HATE the “how do you use this course page”. It’s so annoying and yet necessary — and yet it shouldn’t be necessary because the UI *should* be so intuitive.

    This approach solves the problem!

  2. nkilkenny says:

    I think the idea of putting our design products through usabilit testing is key to getting it right when it comes to good user design. Though for the people who are really not tech savvy or even tech exposed maybe we could just give them a screenshot of the controls with a key to what each feature does. Those folks have the option of clicking a link to view this info while the rest of us don’t have to be subjected to it.

  3. Pingback: Some other thoughts on gaming and instructional design – choice « Learn-Learn-Learn

  4. Nif says:

    When I taught chemistry years ago, I always hated that we taught a unit on laboratory equipment at the beeginning, knowing that the students would forget the pieces of equipment by the time we got to the experiments later in the year/semester that used them.

    For a class I taught called Community Chemistry, recognizing this issue, I changed the syllabus and taught the students the lab equipment on a “need to know” basis as the course progressed.

    You make great points – thanks for your insight!

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