A well designed game or simulation in your online course offers a number of clear benefits. It increases the interactivity of your course. It adds to the differentiation of your course, especially if you are marketing that course in a landscape with competition. It makes your course more memorable to students. And, if designed correctly, research shows that it does improve outcomes for students (with some caveats that games are certainly not appropriate for any kind of learning objective).
As part of a recent working group meeting, we had Matthew Harrington from Delta Rook Consulting come on to talk to use about “When you Should Add a Game to your Course”. Matthew is a learning consultant with an educational background in game design and game storytelling. Here is a clip from the session:
A game is essentially a learning loop, where the game aspect is the a student repeating a loop several times for a reward or completion of a game. Think of increasing levels of difficulty or unlocking additional actions or attributes. The loop concept is a powerful one. A traditional course is designed linearly, where a student reviews a video or an article one time, and maybe more if they didn’t understand it the first time. A game can serve as a strategic loop to offer the student repeated hands-on experience with a concept or skill.
- Play your game on paper – If possible, design and build your game on paper before you start designing technical requirements. If it isn’t playable on paper, try to design the mechanics in Excel or some other easy simulation tool and test it with other people. This will help iron out the kinks before spending money getting it built by a developer.
- Keep it simple – When investing in a game, it can be tempting to throw as many learning objectives you can in there. The research advises not to do this. Research advises that games that focus on specific learning objectives and keep distractions to a minimum are best.
- Lower the friction – Create games that can get students invested without lots of onboarding or technical hassle.
- Avoid starting from scratch – There are a lot of existing games and libraries out there which can be re-used or used for inspiration. Building from scratch prevents you from learning the lessons from games that have come before, and it is likely to make your project more expensive.
- Make it re-usable – If possible, create a game mechanic that can be used in different scenarios. The cost of developing a game is usually higher than other pieces of learning content, so spread that cost out by creating a game with multiple uses. Especially if you have to have budget approved, this makes the ROI on that investment more reasonable.