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Game-Like Qualities for e-Learning: Part II


by Mary-Scott Hunter, vice president - client services

Mary-ScottHi there. Remember me? Mary-Scott? We chatted the other week about game-like strategies to integrate into your e-learning? Oh good. You do remember. Well, I had talked about three favorites of mine:  adding a timer, building in collaboration, and exploring new worlds.

I also promised four (4) more additions to this list, so I’m going to continue to explore game-like wins for your e-learning. Let’s go!

4. Surprise me

GiftHave you ever been through an e-learning experience and been flat-out surprised by what happened next? Me neither. e-Learning is predictable. In fact, adult learning theory advocates the opposite: always tell adult learners exactly what to expect, how many minutes to plan for the experience, etc. Generally, I agree with setting expectations. If learners think an e-learning course is going to last 30 minutes and it lasts 45 minutes—that’s a terrible surprise.

But, there are hundreds of surprises to consider integrating into e-learning. What if you initially requested learners to enter six names of loved ones and then throughout the course customers randomly show up with those names? What if you added a simple, 20-second animation midway through the e-learning course reminding learners to take a break and get some water? What if the reward for finishing a module was your VP of Sales with slices of cheese on his/her head?

Okay, that’s pretty random.

But guess what happens when you shock learners? They pay attention to everything. Who knows where the next insanity may come from? Who knows who is going to be next one wearing cheese slices? Not every surprise has to be insane; your culture may not support such hilarity. Still, that’s exactly what a surprise is—something completely unexpected given the environment.

5. Do something new physically that learners haven’t done in a computer environment

FlyingLet your learners fly (reward!) over the office environment. Have them ‘bowl’ as a two-minute intermission break. Have them move the mouse in ways they have never done before. I won’t elaborate much on this idea as it’s so close to generating surprises.

The act of doing something different with your mouse and your keyboard can ‘wake up’ a dull learning experience to new possibilities.  So many clients want their learners to think creatively and yet invite them to think creatively inside e-learning that uses the same techniques developed in 1986.

This may not be an applicable example for e-learning but in the game Assassin’s Creed, you (through your avatar) dive off a tall building in Renaissance Italy. It’s amazing. It’s terrifying. I’ll never experience anything like that in the real world. There is no practical value to this experience. I loved it. I want to do it again.

6. Show me the Boss

BossUh oh. Guess who was assigned to review your paperwork in your highly-regulated, technically-challenging, paperwork-driven environment? It’s OSHA’s meanest, most meticulous reviewer, Melvin Marump. He hates his job. His teenage daughter just got her first piercing and he misplaced amazing 50-yard-line tickets to this weekend’s NFL game. He’s going to go home and look for those tickets right after he inspects your paperwork. Melvin’s not in a great mood.

Games are often leveled so that the last challenge the gamer encounters is The Boss. The Boss Challenge is the ultimate challenge, the culmination of every skill acquired along the way. Melvin Marump—he’s the boss. Tell the learner he’s coming (and angry) and if you can’t access the paperwork he desires in under two minutes, he’s going to fail you. You will start over.

Then, give them chances to practice. The goal is to beat The Boss Challenge. If the learner has truly mastered the skill, they will beat Melvin. We want the learners to win. But, put a challenge in front of them that feels hard, that feels unwinnable.

You know what we love? To win. When does winning mean something? When it is hard.

7. Let Learners Earn Success

AwardI think the best part of old-school Wheel of Fortune (I’m dating myself here) is when the contestants won money and were forced to make their winning selections from a stage of random prizes. “Pat, I’d like to buy the his and her bikes for $500…and the life-sized ceramic greyhound for $250.”

Who wants a ceramic greyhound? Nobody.

That’s not the point.

There’s a certain thrill in ‘buying.’ Why not let learners experience that thrill. For every problem solved or customer made happy, allow them to ‘buy’ different colors in their interface. Allow them to ‘buy’ background music or ‘art’ to hang in the e-learning environment. If you want a tighter fit with the instructional design, allow them to buy clues or solutions. Allow them to purchase advice from trusted stakeholders or 'buy' a second chance to fix a mistake made earlier.

Which should you use?

As you consider which game-like qualities to integrate into e-learning, do not lose sight of the instructional goal. I love games—games are a passion of mine. But, I do not allow my gamer love to blind me to instructional outcomes and what I need to accomplish for learners. On the other hand, I do not let instructional outcomes blind me to the possibility of gaming either. As in most things in life, the secret is balance. And surprises.

I hid a link to one of my favorite videos on YouTube in this article. Can you find it?


View Part I of Mary-Scott's blog for the first 3 Game-like Qualities