A matter of choice …
I mused awhile ago about incorporating gaming elements into instructional designs … well …
I’ve been having more conversations about gaming and how it can influence our instructional designs. At one point I mentioned, “Something that games do is give players choice … ” I explained that some games allow you to choose the type of character you’re going to play in the game as well as choosing which tools to use at various moments and choosing which missions to tackle and in which order to tackle them. Suffice it to say, games give players lots and lots of choices.
And I believe that this is so prevalent that choice is a principle of good game design.
“Oh, we do that with scenario-based learning,” came a reply.
Well … okayyyyyy … one can rightly say that making choices is a key element of learning through scenarios; however, there is a fundamental difference between how many training designs use choice (at least from those that I’ve experienced – and even those that I’ve designed) compared to how games use it. And this difference can make all the difference!
In most training programs I’ve encountered that use scenarios, the choices can be characterized as:
- mostly in the vain of multiple-choice test questions where there is one clearly correct answer and all others are fairly clearly incorrect.
- the scenario includes one, maybe two, choices (still in the form of multiple choice questions).
- I receive direct feedback after making a choice in the form of ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect.’ (a very binary approach to decision making and responding to situations)
- the choices are often very simple to discriminate correct and incorrect … poorly developed multiple choice questions and responses – in some cases I’ve not had to read the scenario to answer correctly (and this is a subject all to itself for another blog post perhaps)
No matter how much I’d dress up a multiple choice question, it’s still a multiple choice question that more often than not tests how well someone read the scenario and whether the learner can simply recall what was read.
But in a game a player’s choice has a very real impact on the game itself.
And the sum of the choices made can influence my character, the types of tools or weapons and equipment I can use, the types of skills I can learn and master, the types of missions that are unlocked for me, how the non-player characters react to me, and so on and so on …
It would be VERY DIFFICULT, perhaps impossible, to design a training program that has the breadth and amount of depth of choices available to players in a game. Frankly, I’m not interested in designing a real game … I’m working on designing a learning experience to help folks do their job and do it well.
But there is a possibility of using the element of choice, in a game-like fashion, in an instructional design. And there are likely many ways to incorporate choice.
One way is to develop more realistic choices within scenarios. The choices can include “shades of gray,” where there are better or not-so-good responses as opposed to clearly correct versus incorrect choices.
The choices should be rooted in what the person would DO in the given situation … and not what she remembers from the information presented in previous screens.
Then, rather than providing direct feedback such as “That is correct!” or “Incorrect,” have the scenario continue with the impact of the choice made.
For example, suppose for a compliance course (one that deals with protecting and securing confidential information) the learner is given just enough information … she’s observed a coworker doing something well and also something that might be a violation of the company’s policy. The learner’s choice in the situation moves to the next part of the scenario – the next scene being related to the choice made.
For instance, if the learner chooses to say something to the coworker such as, “I think that’s not a good idea … perhaps you …,” the next scene shows the coworker responding with surprise (“Huh? I didn’t know that”) or maybe with gratitude (“Gee, you might be right. Thanks.”) or maybe even a confrontation (“Who do you think you are? The policy police?”). The learner then as another choice to make … and it continues like this until the scenario is completed.
Then there can be a summary of the scenario – this is a learning program after all – that lists the choices made, the responses received for each choice, and a statement of what the learner could do better next time or what she could consider when she encounters a similar situation in the workplace.
Another possibility would be to assign a number of experience points or skill points for each response in a scenario. When the scenario is completed the learner sees the total points received out of the total number of points possible. And there can be a range of points that categorizes the learner’s performance in the scenario … 850-1220 = expert or advanced, 726-849 = novice, 515-725 = new hire, and the like (of course making these categories unoffensive).
Perhaps have some leader board published with learners’ total skill points showing in ranked order of top scores.
There are many possibilities … the gist being, however, that the scenarios provide realistic choices, include shades of gray, and the responses trigger subsequent events in the scenario.
This will, of course, take more design effort … but would be well worth that effort.
Player choice can come into play in other aspects of instructional designs … I’ll likely tackle those ideas in another post.