Are You an Instructional Designer, a Learning Game Designer or Both?

Are You an Instructional Designer, a Learning Game Designer or Both?
Summary: Many instructional designers are now being asked to investigate serious games and gamification for use in their training. The problem? Few instructional designers have real game design experience or skills. Game-based solutions have great potential for learning, but only if they are designed well.

Instructional designers are skilled writers, researchers, and facilitators. They are intimately familiar with learning theories and know how to apply those theories to all types of learning solutions. In a corporate environment, it’s the instructional designer’s job to understand what enables employees to learn best… and design training that maximizes engagement and retention.Most instructional designers are highly skilled at creating solutions such as eLearning courses, webinars, presentations, instructor-led sessions, and even large curriculums. The eLearning courses an instructional designer might create can get extremely complex, with branching scenarios and immersive interactions all within the range of possibilities.When a VP, Director, or Manager decides to include games and gamification as part of the learning strategy, it seems like a natural jumping off point to have the instructional designer create the game. The ID is already on staff and it is their job to create training content… so it seems natural that they would have the skills to design a serious game or gamification system as well.In reality, game design is unique from instructional design, and it requires skills and experience that, while sometimes similar, differ from instructional design. Without proper tools and training in game design, instructional designers will commonly produce “eLearning games” that are too simple, not really a game, not aligned with the learning objectives, or needlessly complex. These endeavors are a waste of time and money.

5 Serious Games Tips That Instructional Designers Should Be Familiar With

If you are an instructional designer who has been asked to create a serious game, or someone trying to get buy-in for games from management, consider the following serious games tips some:

  1. You have to play games to design them
    If you don’t enjoy playing games yourself, the odds are low that you will design a game that learners enjoy playing. Immerse yourself by playing various competitive and collaborative games with a variety of game mechanics and game elements before you try and design your own game.
  2. A game goal is not a learning goal
    The game goal is the objective players must complete in the game. The learning goal is just like a learning objective in instructional design: what will learners know, do, or believe after playing the game?
  3. A learning game must be challenging yet balanced
    Novice learning game designers often create games that are too easy to avoid “frustrating” their target learners. The problem? Games that are too easy or unbalanced begin to feel an awful lot like a click-through eLearning course. The opposite happens when designers try to make their games more interesting by adding unnecessary complexity. Game designers avoid these issues by play-testing their creations rigorously.
  4. The game mechanics and game elements chosen should match the learning goal(s)
    There are a wide variety of game elements and game mechanics you might choose to include in a learning game, but you will never need to include all of them in a single game. The learning game design white paper provides an overview of the various game elements and game mechanics… and how they can be used for learning.
  5. Learning games should be created based on the science of how we learn
    You are trying to design a solution that helps people learn, right? If so, make sure the game includes research-based learning principles such as spaced repetition and feedback loops. Skilled learning game designers will try to include these learning principles in their game as part of the initial design.

Unfortunately, designing a serious game can become expensive and time-consuming without the proper skills and experience. If you are new to learning game design, consider using a learning game engine to build serious games without prior game design knowledge.