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Instructional Designers: Level Up Your eLearning Content with Learning Games!

Instructional designers are experts in the art of making information understandable, consumable, and retainable. They have the very difficult task of handling large volumes of complex information that has to be distilled into slides, visuals, and different kinds of eLearning formats. As the features in self-authoring tools like Adobe Captivate have evolved, many instructional designers can now create simple learning games and branching narratives to add more engagement into their content.

We’re often approached by instructional designers for our assistance in creating meaningful and immersive learning games from their content that is outside the scope of their capabilities. While every client has their own unique needs, more often than not, the same few questions come up:

1) How much content can I get in a game?

We have a general rule of thumb for this question:

“The more you make the game about everything, the more you end up with a game about nothing.”

– Dan Norton, Chief Creative Officer

This is because the more learning objectives you try to pack into your game, the more difficult it becomes to create unique game mechanics that handle all the different types of content you are trying to teach. The only way a game can handle a lot of content – and a lot of different kinds of content – is if you make a trivia game or multiple choice game. We generally like our games to contain somewhere between 1 to 6 well-formed, challenging learning objectives.

2) If I can’t make a game about all of my content, what part of my content should I make a learning game about?

That’s up to you to decide, really, but here are some questions you can start asking yourself about your content:

What are the hardest concepts for learners to grasp?

What concepts are the most critical for them to learn?

If a learner fails to grasp certain foundational concepts, will they be able to understand future concepts?

What is the biggest risk to your organization if a learner doesn’t understand certain concepts?

3) When I’ve narrowed down my area of focus for my game, how should I pinpoint what the game should be about?

Our recommendation is to look for content from three different angles when trying to select which learning objectives are best taught in a game:

Systems: Does your content include any systems? By systems, we mean content with any different parts that build on each other. Systems are great to teach in games because we can effectively break the systems apart and introduce each part of the system slowly as the player masters them.

Verbs: Do any of your learning objectives include verbs? Things like analyze, sort, synthesize, etc? Teaching content with verbs works so well in games because we can have the player perform the action in the game. The more the player can do the action in the game, the more the learnings will transfer to real world situations.

Identity: Would any of your content be best served if the player approached it from an empowered identity? Do you want to teach a perspective, a way to be, or a mindset? Do you want your learner to see themselves in a certain way? Games are great at allowing players to inhabit an identity that lets them to see themselves as someone who knows and inhabits the content.

4) Is there any type of learning content that I should avoid making games about?

In general, we don’t recommend spending your budget on creating games to memorize content. If you have long lists of facts your learners need to memorize and retain, the best way to do that is through flashcards. You can make your own physical cards and print them or download a free flashcard app.

As a litmus test, we often ask ourselves, “Can we do better than paper?” In other words, if you are going to spend your time and energy (and dollars) on making a digital game, it must offer the learner something better than what is available in traditional media – the oldest, most reliable and the cheapest being paper.

I hope this was helpful to you. Any other questions or comments? Feel free to reach out.


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