4 Learning Game Design Mistakes Instructional Designers Make

4 Learning Game Design Mistakes Instructional Designers Make
Summary: If employees play your instructional game, will they really learn anything? If you do not avoid these common learning game design mistakes, the answer just might be 'No'.

The Learning Game Design Mistakes Instructional Designers Make

Instructional Designers and trainers are (usually) deeply engaged in the process of educating and supporting their learners. They love learning themselves and want the people they teach to love it as well. With all of the passion and enthusiasm that they bring to training, learners are bound to catch on. Right?

It’s not so simple, unfortunately. These ‘learners’ as we call them are really human beings who are busy, possibly overwhelmed, and want to make sure they only invest their time and attention into training that will actually benefit them. They’ve probably been burned before, whether it was a painful instructor-led session or an outdated eLearning course.

Trainers and Instructional Designers have turned to new and promising approaches to bridge the engagement gap. This is why game-based learning and gamification have been on the rise in recent years. 35% of the 150 organizations we surveyed said they are already using games or gamification in their training programs. 10% said gaming was the number one trend they were excited about in 2017 ahead of all others, which was tied for third place overall behind microlearning and video.

But what happens when Instructional Designers try and become game designers? Well, that depends on how they prepare themselves. Instructional Design is not the same as game design, and it takes practice and experience to connect business goals, learning objectives and game mechanics together effectively.

This is the subject of Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games by Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp. In the book, Sharon and Karl present a nine-step learning game design process Instructional Designers can follow. Four of the steps in particular tend to trip up learning professionals. If you can avoid these common learning game design mistakes, you are well on your way to becoming a good learning game designer.

What Learning Game Design Mistakes Instructional Designers Make?

1. They Don’t Play Enough Games And Evaluate What They Play.

This one sounds so simple, yet so many of us don’t put it into practice. Novelists spend thousands of hours reading and researching before they start writing. Musicians listen and learn other pieces before composing their own. You get the idea. To create a great game, you need to spend time playing games, and you need to spend time evaluating what you play. This is how you will gather the raw material to come up with great game design ideas later on.

2. They don’t explore learning games as a specific genre

Commercial games only have one objective: to be fun. Learning games are trickier because they must be driven first and foremost by an instructional goal and learning objective(s). Fun is often a secondary goal in learning games, and the real goal is to be ‘fun enough’ to engage learners without distracting from the learning. Instructional designers who only play and evaluate commercial games risk missing this distinction and designing games with mechanics that distract players from the intended learning.

3. They skip playtesting

It’s so tempting to think a game is finished once you’ve designed it. Commercial games go through stringent testing to make sure they are balanced and fun. Why should your game be any different? Many instructional designers forgo playtesting because it is time consuming and sometimes out of a project’s scope. Don’t make this mistake! Build time into your project plan to test your learning game internally as well as with players who represent your target learners.

4. They don’t link gameplay to business needs and learning objectives

Just like with any training event, the business need and instructional goal must be clearly defined. Of these two, the business need should be given priority. Before you design anything, ask yourself “What is the business need that is driving the use of this learning game?” Here are some possible answers according to Sharon Boller:

  • A need to increase sales or to support the launch of a new product?
  • Customer complaints or ineffective customer service?
  • A need to comply with government regulations?
  • Quality issues?
  • Safety issues?
  • A need to build knowledge or skill on a business-critical process?
  • Something else?