Engaging Instructional Design & Gamification

Gamification and Instructional Design

According to a survey, 75% of people are gamers, half play sometimes and a little more than a quarter play as often as moderate to fair amount of the time. Another study found that 5 million people in the U.S. spend more than 40 hours a week. Many of these are games are accessed through the Internet and feature a social aspect that connects players to friends, family, and other participants, making them even more addictive. The conductor of the survey also found that about 80% of users said they’d be more productive at work or school if the work they were involved in was more game-like. What is it about these games that make them so engaging that people focus on them for hours on end? The answer lies in good game design, and many of the principles of good game design can also be applied to instructional design to make for more engaging eLearning experiences.


How People Recall Information

At a 2005 National Summit on Educational Games held, information was presented on how learners recall information. There was a huge difference between the amount of information that people recall when it comes to reading, hearing, seeing and interacting. Based on the following study findings, it’s clear to see how the incorporation of various aspects of gaming (e.g., interactivity with audio, visuals and simulations) can aid in learning online:

  • 10 percent is retained when read
  • 20 percent is retained when heard
  • 30 percent is retained with visuals during an oral presentation
  • 50 percent is retained when observing someone doing and explaining an action
  • 90 percent is retained when people do something themselves


Using Gaming to Link Learning Objectives

Gamification experts agree that when it comes to using gaming for learning one needs to illustrate progress, increase engagement, create challenges and provide users with a sense of accomplishment. Games typically revolve around the achievement of certain objectives, which is often associated with an incentive to “win” if a player achieves their overall goal. This can be accomplished through participants winning rewards, achieving levels and gaining scores. In fact, they found that 89 percent of people said that winning points as part of an eLearning point system would help them to be more engaged.

But, not so fast; you must realize that game goals and learning goals are essentially two totally different things. eLearning focuses on a set of learning objectives that lead to overarching learning goals. When designing learning games, one must carefully translate learning goals to effectively go along with game goals. Be mindful of what you want learners to know as a result of playing the game.

Incorporate gaming aspects into your instructional design in a way that they link to learning objectives. Game mechanics include the use of explicit rules that a player must follow and implicit rules that the game follows in response to a player’s actions. When it comes to game mechanics the important thing is not to make them too easy and risk the player becoming bored quickly, and not too complex causing the player to have too concentrate too much on trying to figure out how to play rather than actually completing tasks. Game mechanics should link to the learning objectives, such as encouraging real-world behavior through simulations and reinforcing memory skills through repetition and feedback.

Incorporating Game Elements for Critical Thinking

Game elements, such as conflict, cooperation, and rewards, help to keep players engaged. Instructional design can incorporate several or many of these elements into learning, just be sure they support the learning process in addition to being fun. Conflict is a great way to challenge learners so that they use critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Cooperation alone, or in combination with competition, can provide opportunities for learners to interact with each other, collaborate on a problem, and learn teamwork skills. More than 60 percent of the users surveyed said that eLearning leader boards would be more motivating. However, it’s important to be mindful of issues that can occur when including competitive games that actually demotivate some users.

A number of top companies have incorporated gaming into their training programs successfully, including Deloitte, IBM and Xerox. However, before embarking on the gamer way, traditional instructional designers should collaborate with game designers to effectively merge both strategies. While both have similar approaches, they aren’t the same. Instructional designers can take advantage of the specialized tools and skills used by gamers and avoid issues that often result when they try to do it themselves, which may include the development of learning games that are either too simply or unnecessarily complex and those that fail to align with learning objectives or don’t end up to be much of a game at all.