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6 Lessons from the Trenches of Digital Learning Game Design

Lessons from the Trenches of Digital Game Design

Bottom-Line Performance has done simulation and learning game design for table-top/live events for many years. However, our foray into digital game design has only been happening for the past three years. When we started, we found lots of books and articles on game design – but not much on learning game design. We leveraged wonderful books from game designers such as Tracy Fullerton and Brenda Brathwaite and gleaned from their experiences designing games, but we didn’t have a ton of peers writing tomes on learning game design. (Exception: Karl Kapp’s book, Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos for Learning came out in 2007. It’s a wonderful book, but it’s not really a how-to guide to creating learning games. His most recent book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook has more how-to guides within it.)

There are some similarities between learning design and learning game design… but even more differences. Here is a summary of six lessons we’ve learned. We’ll present these – with more detail – at sessions we’re doing at ASTD TechKnowledge later this week as well as at Training 2014 in early February. You can get a sneak peak at the slides we’ll use (and the example) on Slideshare.

1. You need game content – even at your first prototype.

This might sound obvious, but if you have done agile design before, you may have designed HOW a learning interaction is going to work while including only placeholder content in it or Greek text. You cannot do this with a game. You have to have realistic content (e.g. an actual scenario and realistic choices for a player to make) or you cannot assess the fun factor and learning efficacy of the game idea. Trust us on this. We made the mistake of trying to design a game interaction with only place-holder content. People played the prototype and then told us, “Well it might be fun but I can’t really tell without seeing the actual game content.” Once we played, it was like the Mr. Obvious show. However, BLP has lots of smart people and we didn’t recognize this issue until we programmed an initial prototype that we called “Story Shuffle.” We got smart and re-did things. Here’s a later view of the same game, now called “Late for Lunch.” For those who are curious – we used a tool called Construct2 to create the game. You can embed games into course authoring tools such as Lectora or Articulate Storyline.

2. Aesthetics and theme dramatically affect desire to play. They literally can be game-changers in terms of people’s interest in what you create.

Again this seems obvious… but aesthetics are HUGELY powerful. They can take content that an ordinary person would NOT find exciting and make you want to play just because the game is so aesthetically cool looking. You might not be excited by the topic of incident investigation but you might be far more excited to go into an evil alchemist’s laboratory and earn your way out by making gold out of iron. Check out this game to see what I mean.

3. Fantasy has high appeal – even to “corporate” learners. It’s worth fighting for.

Bean counters can be skeptical of fantasy – it can seem frivolous or too fanciful for work. However…that is sort of the point in making someone intrigued enough to want to play a game that would otherwise be rather ho-hum.

Here’s ho-hum.

FantasyInGames

Here’s pretty fun:

FantasyInGames2

4. Most players need help figuring out how to play – but typically won’t opt for it if given a choice.

This lesson is a critical one. Some learning games – in fact, many learning games – require some “show” on how to play to minimize the learner’s cognitive load. You don’t want them to spend so much mental energy figuring out the mechanics of the game that they fail to learn anything. However, when you design a tutorial level of play, if players get a choice, they will often OPT OUT of completing it…because they don’t want to take the time. We’ve learned not to let players have a choice and to require them to go through the tutorial. No, they won’t want to. Yes, it will end up maximizing their enjoyment of the play experience if they do. Either incorporate a “training level” or an actual tutorial into the game unless the game’s mechanics are very, very easy to understand and intuit.

5. Rules and game complexity need to be proportional to the amount of time people will spend playing the game.

If you are designing a multi-hour play experience, you can incorporate lots of game elements and mechanics (aka game rules). If you are trying to create a 10-minute to 60-minute play experience, you NEED TO KEEP IT SIMPLE. Lots of complexity can create a very fun GAME experience, but it has a negative impact on the LEARNING experience. As you play test your game during development, you need to ask both of these questions:

  • How engaged were you in play?
  • What did you learn by playing?

If the game has lots of clever elements and mechanics, you can get very positive responses to the first question – but poor responses to the second.

6. Scoring is the hardest element to get right – and requires far more time than a novice designer will probably assign to the project plan for it.

I created the game Formulation Type Matters four years ago. It was my first digital game (and a finalist this year in the Serious Games Challenge – hooray!). I allocated 8 hours to define the scoring for this game. We actually spent well over 40 hours figuring out the scoring – mostly because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I started. I’ve learned a lot since then, and I am now more careful to think through the scoring to make sure it’s relevant to the skill I’m trying to teach, meaningful to the player, motivating (rather than de-motivating to the player,) and, frankly, easy to understand. I also know that it is probably going to take more than 8 hours to figure out the scoring on a game unless the game is super-simple.

Here are the slides I used when presenting “Lessons from the Trenches” at conferences

BLP Named a Finalist in 2013 Serious Games Showcase and Challenge

Serious Games Showcase and Challenge

Bottom-Line Performance Inc. (BLP) specializes in custom eLearning, game-based learning and mobile solutions. President Sharon Boller strategically emphasized games (which are also her passion) as a viable learning solution for our clients years before they were the latest trend in corporate learning. That dedication paid off last week, as Formulation Type Matters, a game we developed for Dow AgroSciences, was named a finalist in the 2013 Serious Game Showcase and Challenge in the “Business” category.

The game is just one example of the custom learning games we create for our clients.

“We were intrigued by the possibility of an interactive game format as a learning tool,” said Marc Fisher, Global Technology Transfer Leader at Dow AgroSciences. “The finished course resonated with our sales reps and engaged them in the learning experience in a way our other solutions had not yet supplied.”

Formulation Type Matters is a scenario-driven game where sales reps are transported to the Hinterlands, a fictional island where their interactions with customers in their territory positively and negatively impact their sales. Fisher noted that the game intentionally does not control the learner’s path, much like they would encounter in typical customer interactions.

“Formulation type has a major impact on a product’s performance,” said Fisher. “The game provides a fun, engaging and challenging way to learn this highly technical information, and reinforces the availability of downloadable fast facts guides as resources on this topic for new hire sales. We are extremely pleased to have this learning game in our toolbox.”

The Serious Games Showcase & Challenge began in 2005 to “stimulate industry creativity and generate institutional interest towards the use of digital game technology and approaches for training and education.” The Challenge partners with the organizers of the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) and the National Training Systems Association (NTSA). A panel of industry experts select the winners in each category, while participants in the annual I/ITSEC conference will vote for the “People’s Choice Award.”

The BLP team will showcase Formulation Type Matters at the 2013 I/ITSEC conference in Orlando, December 2-5, 2013 in Orlando. The conference is attended by 20,000+ professionals in the serious games/simulations industry annually.

Interview With Sharon Boller on Games and Learning


I conducted the same interview with Dr. Karl Kapp, Ed.D, author of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. Karl is one of the foremost thought leader in the game based learning space. Read his interview here.


Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games

We recently shared an interview with Dr. Karl Kapp, Ed.D, on games and learning. The same questions were posed to Sharon Boller, President of BLP. I look up to both of these individuals for the work they have done in the learning games space, and their responses should serve as inspiration for anyone looking to design learning games of their own.

After a sold-out pre-conference workshop at ASTD ICE in Dallas, Karl Kapp and Sharon Boller have decided to host their learning game design workshop again. This time, the all-day event will be held in Indianapolis on August 28th in Indianapolis, IN.

Sharon’s answers are below, and Karl’s are available in Part One.


Sharon BollerSharon Boller is president of Bottom-Line Performance, Inc. (BLP), a learning solutions firm she founded in 1995. Sharon has grown BLP from a single-woman sole proprietorship that employed 1 to a $2M company employing 20 team members. Sharon is also the creator of the Knowledge Guru™ brand affiliated with BLP that focuses on game-based learning. She is the lead game designer for its inaugural product, known as Guru Classic, and she is leading the development of a second, more robust offering known as Guru Game Builder that will allow users to create multi-level learning games. Sharon frequently speaks on game-based learning and learning design topics at the local and international level. She authored one of the chapters in Karl Kapp’s forthcoming book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Field Book. In addition, she’s authored numerous white papers on the topics of learning game design and learning trends. She also has a book, published by ASTD Press, Teamwork Training, which reflects her love of experiential approaches to developing teamwork skills as well as her own experience growing and developing the virtual team that is BLP.


Divider for Game Interview How did you get started in instructional design?

My undergrad degree is radio/TV. I got hired by an Indiana agency to produce a new employee orientation video. They hired me in as a “Training Associate IV” position. I never did another video while there but I did get started designing training programs – without knowing anything about it formally. I started reading up on this concept called “instructional design” and got hooked. I enrolled at Indiana University in the Instructional Systems Technology program and got my master’s degree. While pursuing my degree, I got a job working as an instructional designer for a consulting firm, eventually ending up as VP of Instructional Design. I left that job to start Bottom-Line Performance in 1995… and I’ve been designing learning solutions since then.

Divider for Game Interview When did you start playing games… and when did you make the connection that games were powerful learning tools?

I’ve loved games since I was a kid. I’m old enough to precede LOTS of technologies so my early game memories are all board games, physical games, and card games– Aggravation, Clue, Monopoly, Canasta, Euchre, Sardines, Freeze Tag, Marco Polo, etc. My siblings and I played games all the time because we didn’t have other things competing for our free time. It could all be spent playing games. When I got into high school, I worked in the toys/sporting goods department of Sears, which happily coincided with the introduction of Atari, the first gaming system I can recall. I loved PacMan, DonkeyKong, Asteroids, etc. Now – with an iPad and a SmartPhone, the games are literally right in my hands.

As for using them as learning tools, as soon as I started doing instructional design, I started using games. Obviously, my skills here ALSO preceded technology so I was creating table-top games and simulations first. Once eLearing gained popularity, digital games became possible. My first-ever original learning game was a review game where the original concept came from an internet search and I then exploded it out. I could quickly see that whenever a game got introduced into a workshop, the interest and engagement level went WAY up. People do not want to be talked to, they don’t want to read… they want to DO. Games let people do. I created my first simulation in the late 1990s. Again, I saw that 1) People’s interest levels were high throughout the simulation 2) They got far more “ah-ha” moments and true learning moments when they could experience something instead of someone simply telling them, “This is what happens when you do X.”

Divider for Game Interview What specific studies or anecdotal stories, to you, make the strongest case for game-based learning efficacy?

On an anecdotal level, I like showing pictures of people’s faces and body language when they are immersed in a learning game. I then ask, “Do your employees ever look like this when they are taking an eLearing course or attending a PPT-based “training” session?” For specific, hard-core studies, I like Rick Blunt’s study because it features a control group.

Divider for Game Interview What are some of the biggest mistakes you see newbie learning game designers make, and how can they avoid them?

Uhm….I”m still making mistakes, which is what ample play testing is for… seeing unintended consequences. The two biggest mistakes I see? Underestimating (by a lot) the thought and time that coming up with good scoring requires. People simply don’t think about the ramifications of scoring – which is a huge source of feedback. The second mistake I see is lack of clarity on the game goal – being unable to distill the game down to a single statement of what it takes to win the game – which may be different than your learning goal.

Divider for Game Interview What tips do you have for individuals just getting started with learning game design?

I bet Karl and I say the same thing on this one: 1) Don’t try to design a learning game if you don’t like playing games yourself. 2) Play lots of games first and evaluate what makes them “fun.” More on that in my recent blog post.

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What’s your favorite part of playing, designing, studying, and speaking on games for a living?

Everything. I just really like games and I like thinking about how to design them. I also really enjoy helping OTHER people design a game for themselves and realizing they can do it.

Space is limited for Play to Learn. Read the event description or click the link below to register.Eventbrite - Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games

Interview With Karl Kapp on Games and Learning

I conducted the same interview with Sharon Boller, President of BLP. She is the lead designer of the Knowledge Guru® game engine and designs learning games for many of our clients. Read the interview here.


Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games

After a sold-out pre-conference workshop at ASTD ICE in Dallas, Karl Kapp and Sharon Boller have decided to host their learning game design workshop again. This time, the all-day event will be held in Indianapolis on August 28th in Indianapolis, IN.

Attendees will have the opportunity to design their own learning game at the workshop with the assistance of Kapp and Boller… two of the leaders in the learning game space.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Karl and Sharon about their backgrounds in learning game design, the reasons behind their passion for games and the research and evidence they find most essential to proving why games link to learning.

Karl’s answers are below, and I will share Sharon’s responses in part two.


Karl KappKarl M. Kapp, Ed.D., is a scholar, writer and expert on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations. Karl is a professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA. He teaches graduate level courses including Learning in 3D and Instructional Game Design. Karl also serves as Assistant Director of Bloomsburg University’s acclaimed Institute for Interactive Technologies (IIT). In that role, Karl helps government, corporate and non-profit organizations leverage learning technologies to positively impact employee productivity and organizational profitability through the effective use of learning. Karl has written five books including Learning in 3D and Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning and The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. His work has been featured in Jeannie Novak’s popular Game Development Essentials series. Karl blogs at the popular Kapp Notes website. Visit him at www.karlkapp.com.


How did you get started in instructional design?

Karl: Well, it started with a sixth grade crush. A girl I liked had taken acting lessons at a local theatre so I decided to take acting lessons as well. Then one day a company came to the theatre because they were looking for kids to act in a safety video about crossing the street, the girl whom I fancied volunteered to act in a safety video and, of course, so did I.

After I graduated from college with a teaching certificate, an English degree and several courses in psychology, I was looking for a job before heading to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh for a program in educational counseling. Someone mentioned that a local company did something with writing, psychology and teaching and that I should check it out. It turns out the company was the same one that created the safety video. When I applied for the job I said, “Hey, I’ve worked here before?” and they were a bit confused until I told them I was one of the “child actors” in the safety video. They hired me and after working there for a few weeks, I discovered what Instructional Design was all about. I was immediately hooked. So I spent the summer changing my graduate program form educational counseling to instructional technology. It was the best move. I discovered a field that used all my talents from standing up in front of people and speaking to teaching to writing to psychology. It was and is a great field and I really love it.

I thought it was the most fascinating thing to systematically design instruction to impact learners and behavior, and to actually help people learn things in a variety of environments. There was a systematic way to do that. That really attracted me to the field. Once I had my masters, I got a job at a software company as the one-person training department, and I realized, “Oh, I need to know more.” Then I went on and got my doctor of education from the University of Pittsburgh. So my short acting stint in sixth grade literally changed my life and led me to this field.

Divider for Game Interview

When did you start playing games… and when did you make the connection that games were powerful learning tools?

Karl: I have been playing games all my life. From card games and board games in my earliest days to playing on the Atari 2600 to handheld Coleco Games (football was my favorite) to the Super Nintendo Entertainment system to the console and online games of today like the Uncharted series for the Playstation III and games on my iPhone like Temple Run.

I first noticed that games could play a role in corporate learning on my first internship out of college. It was the summer of 1989. I was working for the instructional design company I mentioned earlier and one of the employees was working on a radical idea of a paper-based game to teach people negotiation skills. He needed some people to test the game and I volunteered. As we were playing the game, I realized how impactful it was in terms of helping me to understand the negotiation skills he was trying to teach, in terms of my being comfortable applying those skills and in terms of gaining a perspective about negotiation skills that I did not have before. From that moment forward, I was convinced that instructional games could be invaluable within a corporate setting.

At that company, I was involved in some small scale efforts after that time. Then I began to study them more in-depth in the late 1990s and early 2000’s and wrote about using games for instruction within corporate environments in my 2007 book, Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning. After that book was published, I was also able to help design some corporate games and see the impact they had within organizations and see how to apply game-elements as a new method of designing instruction within the corporate environment but up until just a few years ago, games were not seen as something appropriate for corporate settings. There is still some stigma remaining but it seems to be subsiding now that people are beginning to understand the interactive nature of games and how game elements such as challenge, story, interactivity and feedback encourage learning.

Then, I was fortunate enough to become a member of a team developing a game to teach middle school children science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. In that project I helped design a full scale educational game which provided me with a wealth of insights into the design of games for learning. I continued my research and work into games and gamification and I needed a place to capture all my thoughts so I wrote them down and captured them in a file that eventually became my latest book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.

Divider for Game Interview

What specific studies or anecdotal stories, to you, make the strongest case for game-based learning efficacy?

Karl: Well, the one thing that really excites me about the field for game-based learning is that there are a number of meta-analysis studies (study of studies) that points to the fact that games are effective for helping people to learn. We now have peer-reviewed empirical research that shows positive learning impacts and behavioral impacts from games. To me, it is exciting that we now have evidence showing games do, in fact, teach.

Another area of research that is fascinating to me is that the research is now looking into what individual attributes of games make them effective for learning. So, we are moving away from studies that compare game-based learning to classroom instruction and are now looking at what attributes (i.e. story, freedom to fail, fantasy, etc.) make a game compelling from a learning standpoint. I think that is a great line of research.

In terms of examples, I have personally seen people playing games in a corporate setting and discovering concepts, ideas and approaches that they had never before grasped. I’ve seen this with board games, I’ve seen it with online games as well. Now, it requires debriefing and setting expectations by the instructor but when it happens, it can be highly impactful.

Divider for Game Interview

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see newbie learning game designers make, and how can they avoid them?

Karl: I consistently see three big mistakes. The first is that the newer designers tend to want to create a game that teaches “everything.” They want a game to teach the entire sales cycle or the entire product life cycle. When designing a game for the first time, keep it to one or two main objectives that you want to teach. A game can be simple but effective and the less complicated the learning goals are for the game, the easier it is to design and develop. This doesn’t mean the game is simplistic, getting across a couple of really compelling ideas can be difficulty to design but not as difficult as trying to convey a dozen compelling ideas so keep it to one or two learning objectives to start.

Second, don’t think game design is easy. Just because it is fun and easy to play most games doesn’t mean it’s easy to design a game that is instructional. It is hard. There is no “cook book” for designing games, it is more craft than science. Be prepared, especially for the first time, to work and rework your game. Make a paper prototype, then use a slide deck to mimic the game and then decide to program it for online play. Take your time. If it was easy, everyone would have a game to teach everything but… it’s not easy.

Losing site of the learning objectives is the third issue I see. The most important element in a learning game is that learning has occurred. If learning doesn’t occur, re-think the game. Sometimes organizations become so caught up in the game creation and even implementation that they lose site of the learning goals. Always keep learning goals in mind.

Divider for Game Interview
What tips do you have for individuals just getting started with learning game design?

Karl: My biggest tip is to play games! Well, play them with purpose. The idea is to become a critical consumer of games. Look for what works, what are the game dynamics and think about why a game designer chose to do X instead of Y. One cannot develop a game unless they are experienced with games. You cannot be a good elearning developer without having ever taken an elearning course. One cannot be an instructional game designer without ever having played games and especially instructional games. Additionally, read up on the topic and learn as much as you can from the examples and experiences that others have had. Designing an instructional game might be new to you but plenty of people have been doing it for a long time so learn from others.

Divider for Game Interview

What’s your favorite part of playing, designing, studying, and speaking on games for a living?

Karl: Hmm, my favorite part… I enjoy so many elements of games and helping others understand the value of games. I always jokingly say the favorite part is to be able to purchase video games and write them off as a business expense. But really, it is when people realize learning doesn’t have to be boring, it doesn’t have to be a chore, learning can, indeed, be fun and engaging.

Space is limited for Play to Learn. Read the event description or click the link below to register.Eventbrite - Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games

Knowledge Guru Game Creation Wizard Unveiled at ASTD ICE

Knowledge Guru Game Creation Wizard - Free Trial
ASTD ICE 2013 - Knowledge Guru Game Creator LaunchWe are taking our show on the road to ASTD ICE, May 20 – 22 in Dallas, Texas to unveil the Knowledge Guru Game Creation Wizard. It takes the guesswork out of game based learning with a proven game design you can use for your instructional games. The Wizard allows users to create and edit their own Knowledge Guru games.The beta version is live now…. and version 1.0 will be live in June.In the past, Knowledge Guru clients have relied on us to design and develop their games for them. Now, clients can purchase a complete do-it-yourself game based learning experience. Stop by Booth 1818 to learn more… and take advantage of a 30 day trial. If you set up your trial while we are in our Beta period, you will reserve special introductory pricing should you decide to purchase the full version.

All About Knowledge Guru™

Game Based Learning just got easier…and less expensive.
Game Creation Wizard Our learning game engine gives you a tried and true game design to teach your fact based content. The game is built around the principles of spaced learning and repetition, so learners will remember content for the long haul.  The Game Creation Wizard is easy to use and streamlines development. Create your games quickly and make edits to your content as needed. Learn more.
Purchase Power-ups to customize your games… or have us design a game you.
Game Creation Wizard Most of our Knowledge Guru clients have had us build their games for them. This option works great if you typically outsource your learning design, while the Game Creation Wizard is ideal for in-house instructional design teams. Power-Ups such as custom graphics, branding, and short consultations are designed to enhance your game without blowing the budget. You can request Power-Ups right from the admin dashboard. Learn More.
Try it free for 30 days… then take advantage of the ASTD ICE special rate.
Game Creation Wizard Lots of people are just getting started with game based learning. That’s why Knowledge Guru is free to try for 30 days. Start building your game and see what you think of the Game Creation Wizard and we’ll activate your subscription when you’re ready to buy. Use the promo code ASTDGURU13 when you request your trial to secure the special introductory price of $399 for a single game. After the beta period, games will cost $649. Learn more.
[camera slideshow=”knowledge-guru-game-creation-wizard”]

Learning Game Design Workshop

Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games
We are also excited to facilitate Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games as a pre-conference workshop on Saturday, May 18th. The session is led by Dr. Karl Kapp and Sharon Boller. The session provides a complete road map for getting started in learning game design. Last we heard, only one slot remains. If you cannot make it to ASTD ICE and would still like to attend this workshop, we are hosting it again on August 28th, 2013 in Indianapolis. Learn more.
Sharon BollerSharon Boller is the lead game designer for Knowledge Guru. She speaks on game-based learning and learning design topics at the local and international level. She authored one of the chapters in Karl Kapp’s forthcoming book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Field Book. In addition, she’s authored numerous white papers on the topics of learning game design and learning trends. Karl KappKarl M. Kapp, Ed.D., is a scholar, writer and expert on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations. Karl has written five books including Learning in 3D and Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning and The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. Visit him at www.karlkapp.com His work has been featured in Jeannie Novak’s popular Game Development Essentials series. Karl blogs at the popular Kapp Notes website.

See you at the conference… or after.

We cannot wait to talk about the power of games to transform learning while visiting Dallas. Whether you are attending the pre-conference workshop or planning to visit us at the expo, we will be happy to share our learning game design stories and research.

We are hosting free webinars on learning game design and Knowledge Guru shortly after ASTD ICE, too. They are perfect for a conference-goer who wants to learn more… or a learning designer looking to gain introductory knowledge about game design. Learn more and register below. Contact us if you would like to schedule a face-to-face meeting at ASTD ICE.

A Primer On Play: How to Use Games for Learning (Free Webinar)

Thursday, May 30th – 8 am EDT, 5 am PDT

May 8 am webinar - Register Now

Read the full webinar description and register here.

Thursday, May 30th  11 am EDT, 8 am PDT

May 11 am webinar - Register Now

Read the full webinar description and register here.

Karl Kapp, Sharon Boller Partner for Learning Game Design Workshop

Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games

Learning and Development professionals have been hearing about learning games and game based learning over and over again for a few years now. Game based instructional techniques are growing in popularity, yet many instructional designers lack the skill set to design game based learning. They have not done it before, so they lack clear direction and do not know where to start.

That’s why Sharon Boller, President of BLP, is partnering with Karl Kapp to facilitate Play to Learn, Designing Effective Learning Games. Karl is a professor at Bloomsburg University and his book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction is one of the most highly regarded resources in the field. Karl’s academic background blends well with Sharon’s experiences of implementing game based learning solutions with BLP’s clients.

Game Based Learning Design Skills in High Demand

Game Based Learning is regularly included in today’s corporate training programs… and the demand for learning designers with a game based learning skillset is growing fast. We’ve known this shift is happening, but the growth became even more obvious when the Play to Learn session we are hosting for ASTD ICE quickly reached capacity. We’ve seen attendance rise rapidly for our free game based learning webinar series, too… but it is tough to build a skillset in a one hour online session. The web is full of introductory knowledge, but game based learning design is a skill that takes practice and coaching.

REGISTER FOR THE WORKSHOP

Register for Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games

Our Approach to Game Based Learning Design

If you want to design game based learning, you need to play lots of games. If you want your game based learning to be good, you need to be able to mock up a quick and dirty prototype and play test the heck out of it fast. Find problems, refine, and try try again. You’ll do all of that and more in this workshop. The Play to Learn workshop helps you learn the following:

  • A six-step process to design a learning game and create a paper prototype.
  • How to use a play testing process to do rapid iteration of a game design.
  • How to consider various core dynamics and tweak game mechanics to improve the playability and learning efficacy of a game.
  • How to sell games to an organization’s stakeholders as an effective option, answering the question “why games?”. All the game design skills in the world can’t help you unless you know how to convince your organization to buy in.
The workshop agenda is intentionally balanced between foundational information and hands-on practice. You’ll play games… then talk about the game elements you saw and discuss how they link to learning. You’ll learn the lingo of game design and learning game design… then play cooperative and competitive games and discuss what situations each one is best for. You’ll create a learning game prototype of your own… then play test the prototypes of others and discuss findings with the group. And yes, you will leave with the latest game based learning research in tow that you can take back to stakeholders in your organization. All with the help of Karl Kapp and Sharon Boller – two leaders in the field.

More on sharon Boller and Karl Kapp:

Sharon Boller: Karl Kapp:
Sharon BollerSharon Boller is president of Bottom-Line Performance, Inc. (BLP), a learning solutions firm she founded in 1995. Sharon has grown BLP from a single-woman sole proprietorship that employed 1 to a $2M company employing 20 team members. Sharon is also the creator of the Knowledge Guru™ brand affiliated with BLP that focuses on game-based learning. She is the lead game designer for its inaugural product, known as Guru Classic, and she is leading the development of a second, more robust offering known as Guru Game Builder that will allow users to create multi-level learning games. Read full bio Karl KappKarl M. Kapp, Ed.D., is a scholar, writer and expert on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations. Karl is a professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA. He teaches graduate level courses including Learning in 3D and Instructional Game Design. Karl has written five books including Learning in 3D and Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning and The Gamification of Learning and InstructionRead full bio

Event Location

ExactTarget logo

The workshop will be held at ExactTarget in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. ExactTarget is a client of ours that is frequently on the forefront of using game based learning and gamification for training. We are thrilled to have them as an event sponsor… and even more thrilled that out of town attendees will be able to stay right in downtown Indy.

SPECIAL PRICING

If you want to come to the workshop, you should register soon. Register by June 30th with the promo code EARLYBIRD13 to receive $50 off! We also have special pricing for current BLP clients. Get in touch with someone at BLP to find out more about client pricing.

 

A Counterpoint to Ruth Clark’s “Why Games Don’t Teach”

In February’s Learning Solutions magazine, Dr. Ruth Clark started quite a buzz. She wrote an article with the provocative title, “Why Games Don’t Teach.” This was actually the second time she has written an article with the same title… the first appearing on the ASTD Learning & Development blog.

For those of us who are passionate about game-based learning (GBL), she caused a bit of an uproar. For those who are trying to figure out game-based learning, I fear she squelched them just with her headline.

Less Tell; More Games and Gamification

Games Teach; Poorly Designed Games Don’t

When you actually READ what Dr. Clark wrote, she isn’t saying that games are ineffective as learning tools., despite the provocative headline. She says that poorly designed games don’t teach… and not all games teach. I believe she wants to start a thoughtful dialogue about when games should be used – and when other learning solutions might be a better option. She also may want to stop the stampede of converting everything to a game-based learning approach, regardless of whether it’s the best tool.

Unfortunately, I think Dr. Clark’s article may do more harm than good because too many people won’t get past its title. I also think people may simply accept her statements about research without questioning them or digging deeper on their own. I respectfully disagree with Dr. Clark, and here’s a rather long summary of why.

It’s How You Interpret the Data

Clark’s argument for the lack of research focuses on one meta-study of numerous other studies on the efficacy of games in learning.  She says this study indicates there is no clear linkage to prove games are effective learning tools. Ironically, Dr. Karl Kapp, in his book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, uses this same meta-analysis to demonstrate evidence of the value of games. He has an entire chapter devoted to research and he offers a detailed explanation of what the meta-analysis says.

Dr. Kapp published his own rebuttal of Clark’s article in learning solutions magazine last week. In particular, the taxonomy he provides showing type of knowledge, instructional strategies and game elements is extremely valuable.

Dr. Richard Van Eck, an Associate Professor at the University of North Dakota and the graduate director of the Instructional Design and Technology graduate program, wrote a terrific article in 2006 titled “Digital Game-Based Learning. In his article he listed these studies as a very small sampling of the studies available showing efficacy of instructional games:

  • Meta-analysis of Simulation Games Effectiveness for Cognitive Learning (PhD dissertation), Indiana University, M. Szcurek, 1982 (link)
  • A Quantitative Review of Research on Instructional Simulation Gaming: A Twenty-Year Perspective, R.L. Van Sickle, in Theory and Research in Social Education, vol 14, no. 3 (1986) pp 245-264 (link)
  • “The Effectiveness of Games for Educational Purposes: A Review of Recent Research,” J.M. Randall, B.A. Morris, C.D. Wetzel, and B.V. Whitehill in Simulation and Gaming, vol 23, no. 3 (1992) pp 261-276 (link)

Dr. Van Eck does a nice job of stating what I THINK Dr. Clark intended. The emphasis is his:

“I believe we need to change our message. If we continue to preach only that games can be effective, we run the risk of creating the impression that all games are good for all learners and for all learning outcomes, which is categorically not the case. What we need now is 1) research explaining why games are engaging and effective and 2) practical guidelines for how, when, with whom and under what conditions games can be integrated into the learning process to maximize their learning potential.”

This is a much more accurate message than, “Why Games Don’t Teach.”  I also think Dr. Van Eck’s call for practical guidelines on when to use games is what Dr. Clark hoped to get across.

Dr. Van Eck also lists a slew of books and research articles published over the last few decades on game-based learning. These books have been published by the likes of Clark Aldrich, Jane McGonigal, James Paul Gee – people highly respected in the field of games and learning, each of whom has cited research within their books that support game-based learning.

Dr. Clark expressed concern over the lack of studies comparing a game-based approach to a non-game-based approach. I can share three that I think are good. These studies were conducted and shared by Dr. Richard Blunt in 2009. Blunt was the Director of Plans and Programs for the Department of Defense Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative. His area of expertise is game-and simulation design.

Blunt’s studies showed a significant correlation between the use of games and subsequent performance on a test. All three studies featured a game group and a control group that had traditional instruction. Both groups then took the same post-test on the material. This is from his abstract:

Three research studies were conducted at a national university to examine the differences in academic achievement among students who did and did not use video games in learning. Three different video games were added to approximately half the classes of freshmen Introduction to Business and Technology courses, third year Economics courses, and third year Management courses. Identical testing situations were used in all courses while data collected included game use, test scores, gender, ethnicity and age. ANOVA, chi-squared and t tests were used to test game use effectiveness. Students in classes using the game scored significantly higher means than classes that did not.

Read Dr. Blunt’s full paper here.

A less academic version was published in eLearn magazine in December 2009. It can be found here.

I’m certain Clark would point out some constraints in Dr. Blunt’s studies:

  1.  The games used were video games. She might argue that performance might have been different with a different game format.
  2.  Blunt’s results also showed that older students (those older than 41 years of age) did not have as significant of a performance difference.
  3. Clark might argue that these results indicate we need further research to determine which games are best suited for which age groups… or whether games are only useful for digital natives.

We can always use more research, but we have enough to take action

I am all in favor of ongoing research by those who can devote their time and attention to this research and share it out with those of us who are practitioners. However, I won’t disregard the plethora of research that I believe already exists to show games work… and to show that people require engagement and motivation to learn – something games can provide. I think a thoughtful instructional game designer can do reasonable audience analysis and formulate an action plan as to the best type of game for the target audience. We do this all the time at BLP – and we’ve had great (and measurable) success using games across age groups.

Replace traditional eLearning with games and gamification

Games are powerful teaching tools – and far more effective than the plethora of “click next to continue” solutions I see in the corporate world. A well-designed game lets people benefit from feedback mechanisms that offer continuous information on how well or poorly they are doing. It offers valuable context and it can give them  far more rehearsal and practice than other types of learning solutions – even “active” ones that Clark touts as equivalent to game-based learning.

I want to ask Dr. Clark, who has written some amazing books that help guide the design of learning and instruction, to focus more on encouraging people to explore games as a learning tool. I hope she can acknowledge that game-based learning has been proven effective in a variety of situations.  Dr. Clark is a thought leader; she has power to influence positive changes in learning design, getting people to think in terms of how they could create a game – as opposed to a more lecture-based or “tell” format. As Clark pointed out, people do need active learning, and well-designed games are highly active. I agree that a poorly designed game won’t work well – but neither will a poorly-designed group discussion, quiz, or role play.

My blog article, Game-Based Learning: Why Does It Work, summarizes the linkage I see between game elements and learning elements. My hope is that people look beyond provocative headlines on the value (or lack of it) for game-based learning. Instead, I hope practitioners will thoughtfully consider what’s required for learning to happen – and consider how game elements can support that learning process.

 

What is Game Based Learning? (Free Webinar Series)


Want a really cool way to get the facts on Game Based Learning? Check out our new Game Based Learning Infographic! We lay out some great examples of the efficacy of game based learning and gamification, all backed by solid research and great case studies. Click Here to view.


A Primer On Play: How to Use Games for Learning

What is game based learning?

When we gain knowledge and learn new skills through playing a game, we are participating in game based learning. Games are not just reserved for kids; educational games for adults can play a major role in how we learn at work. Most learners are burnt out on Powerpoint slides, standard eLearning courses and instructor-led training. They are ready for something different.

What about gamification? While similar, gamification is a different breed of learning experience. Gamification takes game elements (such as points, badges, leaderboards, competition, achievements) and applies them to a non-game setting. It has the potential to turn routine, mundane tasks into refreshing, motivating experiences.

We write and speak constantly on using games for learning because we are true believers in the power games have to drive learning outcomes. Our goal is to educate the learning community on the power and efficacy of games in the field of learning… particularly for organizations with a business objective they need to hit with their training.

Even though we know game based learning and gamification can transform a training program, we also know that many such initiatives fail because they do not properly map the elements of “fun” in games to real learning outcomes. That’s where our webinars come in.

Learn more about games for learning in our webinar series

We hosted webinars in February and March about how to use game based learning and gamification for learning and the response was incredible. We had a great turnout for both sessions… so we are hosting more sessions in the coming months.

Once again, I’ll be co-presenting the webinar with Sharon Boller, president of BLP. These sessions will be a great chance to hear Sharon speak on games and gamification if you cannot attend her workshop with Karl Kapp at ASTD ICE on 5/18/13.

 

The Knowledge Guru game engine

Learn about Knowledge Guru

We will use our Knowledge Guru game engine as a case study of how game based learning and gamification work. We’ll show how the learning design is built right in to the game design… so every element of the game is designed to drive retention of information. You’ll also get a look at the admin backend that allows tracking of learner progress.

It’s a great chance to learn more about the product and learn about some of the great enhancements we have planned in the near future:

THURSDAY, JUNE 27TH – 11 AM EDT, 8 AM PDT

May 8 am webinar - Register Now

Read the full webinar description and register here.

THURSDAY, JULY 25TH – 11 AM EDT, 8 AM PDT

May 11 am webinar - Register Now

Read the full webinar description and register here.

PLAY TO LEARN: DESIGNING EFFECTIVE LEARNING GAMES

If you want to take game-based learning further, register for our learning game design workshop hosted by Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp. It will be held on August 28th in Indianapolis.

Play to Learn - Designing Effective Learning Games

Read the full event description and register here.

8 Great Posts on Game Based Learning and Gamification

In the Fall of 2011, we wrapped up an 8 part blog series on gamification and game based learning. Sharon Boller, President of BLP, authored the posts with the beginning game designer in mind. If you are just getting started with game based learning, all the information you need is right here. You can view each post individually, or check out the learning brief in it’s entirety right here: A Primer on Learning Game Design by Sharon Boller.


Want a really cool way to get the facts on Game Based Learning? Check out our new Game Based Learning Infographic! We lay out some great examples of the efficacy of game based learning and gamification, all backed by solid research and great case studies. Click Here to view.


A Primer on Learning Game Design by Sharon Boller

 

Part 1: The What and Why of Gamification

What gamification learning means, and how to integrate “common game elements” into training.
View Part 1

Part 2: Mastering the Jargon of Game Design

If you want to create learning games, a logical starting point is to master basic terms and definitions.

View Part 2

Part 3: What Makes for a Meaningful Game?

Knowing the terminology doesn’t mean you can create a fun and meaningful learning game. Creating games is not rocket science, but it is something that improves with practice.
View Part 3

Part 4: Getting Started at Creating Games

You can create a fully-functioning simple game in an afternoon – though, admittedly, this would be a FIRST rendition of a game – not the final version. Here are two examples of games we created in the span of two hours.

View Part 4

Part 5: Getting Ideas for Games

There are numerous ways to approach the design of a game and some can get pretty sophisticated. These are a few simple methods outlined by Brathwaite and Schreiber in their book:

View Part 5

Part 6: Constraints that Affect Design

No matter how good your initial idea is, business objectives and real world limitations will affect your final product. Here are some of the big constraints that will influence design decisions:

View Part 6

Part 7: Play Testing Games – An Essential Step

You can definitely brainstorm a game idea in an afternoon and build a simple prototype. However, going from the rough idea to a polished game takes iterations and time. A great game requires lots of tweaking, modifying, and refining.

View Part 7

Part 8: When You Play Test… And You Find Out the Game Is Not Fun

When you play test early versions of your game, you WILL find out some things don’t work as you envisioned. Perhaps the game is too hard – or too easy. Perhaps it takes too long to play. Perhaps some key learning isn’t happening. Or, perhaps the rules are confusing.

View Part 8 

A Paycheck Away, Our Learning Game For Change, Was a Game Changer

We hosted a public game play session of “A Paycheck Away” as part of the Spirit and Place Festival last Friday, November 9th. 140 people gathered together to play as a homeless character and try to get out of homelessness within three months. We’ve play tested this game several times with groups of all shapes and sizes, and the results of game play showed us just how powerful game based learning  and “games for change” can be. The game was even featured in NUVO here in Indianapolis.

A Paycheck Away - Game Based Learning

You see, a major component of the A Paycheck Away experience is discussion that happens before and after the game. We start the game by asking people to write their perceptions of homelessness on a piece of paper. We typically see things like “drug addicts, lazy, too prideful to go live with family, or mentally ill.” The picture that emerges after playing is quite different. As it turns out, so much of what life throws at us is out of our control — it’s luck. And homelessness is really a symptom of more widespread societal problems… not a cause.

And by the end of our game play session… participants were coming up with solutions. Lots of them, in fact, players left quite a pile:

Solutions from A Paycheck Away

Participants wrote down their ideas and solutions while debriefing.

That’s the power of game based learning. Sure, watching a video or presentation on the problem of homelessness might make you feel bad about the situation, but games immerse you in a scenario and allow you to feel what it’s like in an emotional level.

One challenge of holding a game based learning experience in a short window of time like we did is getting everyone up to speed on the rules quickly. Think of the time it might take you to learn the rules of a new video game or board game with family. We did not have that kind of time to devote to our event! Our goal was to have people play through three months of homelessness in one hour. We did this by creating a “Game Master” role. Game Masters were trained prior to the event and acted as Township Trustee, Employer, Banker, and Settler of Disputes. They guided people through the experience and explained the rules as they went. This approach was highly effective for us.

Robby Slaughter - A Paycheck Away Game Master

Robby Slaughter (left) leans forward to explain a rule to his table. He was a trained Game Master.

Without further ado, let’s look at some of the central issues surrounding homelessness our players identified… and potential solutions

Central Issues Surrounding Homelessness

    • Childcare costs make it hard for homeless parents to take jobs. Childcare is expensive and many low wage jobs do not equal the cost of childcare.
    • Many homeless individuals lack transportation. A shortage of bus lines mean it is impossible for them to get to potential jobs.
    • Quality early childhood education and daycare services are not available in poor communities.
    • Even though early childhood education and quality education in general are important to outcomes for children, many individuals in a community who do not have children do not want to pay taxes to support public schools. This ultimately hurts the community because it contributes to a future generation of individuals who require more public assistance.
    • Individuals with an hourly job who have a sick child may lose their job if they skip work to take care of the child.
    • Having a fixed income, or a government pension in the case of homeless veterans, helped their characters’ situations quite a bit in the game.
    • Lack of good, steady jobs is more of an issue than lack of cash.
    • Having a spouse makes homelessness much more manageable, both for emotional and financial support.
    • Homelessness is only something that happens when it is already too late to provide meaningful help.
    • When government assistance has too much red tape or too many restrictions, it can become very limiting.
    • Ultimately, it is through working that people truly become self sufficient, yet low wages of many jobs leave the homeless no better off than if they stayed on public assistance. It’s a vicious cycle.
    • Daycare is not available at night for people who work in the evenings or work a second job.
    • Being homeless actually takes alot of energy. The homeless are trying to figure out very short-term things while living day to day. They actually have to budget more carefully than those in the middle class.
    • Ultimately… luck plays a much larger role in life than most players thought. Not everyone simply made a bad choice.
    • Many of the homeless are actually employed or underemployed, but simply cannot afford housing because their wages are too low.
Suggested Solutions to Homelessness:
    • Create a program where the elderly watch young children during the day. This would reinvigorate the elderly while providing less expensive childcare.
    • Emphasize basic financial education and personal budgeting more in public schools.
    • Create more effective organizations to connect people to jobs.
    • Create a program that connects people for ride sharing and carpooling so they can get to jobs that are off a bus line.
    • Lobby for improved public transit in urban areas.
    • Create more cheap, affordable housing that is mixed in to both low and high income areas instead of creating divisions in urban communities.
    • Improve early education for 2-5 year olds and make it mandatory.
    • Help homeless and low income families create small businesses in a co-op model of exchanging basic goods and services to help them get out of survival mode.
    • Develop more “all-inclusive” village or communal groups similar to the Amish or rural towns with community transportation, child care and health care.
    • Teach farming and gardening in pockets of urban areas. This allows people to build basic skills, produce goods to sell in farmers markets, and barter for other needs. This could be similar to Heifer International, but with a local focus.
    • Create job training and support programs that many people receiving public assistance must attend as part of their assistance.
    • Make some forms of birth control available over the counter (OTC).
    • Open the lobbies of some downtown businesses at night for the homeless to sleep on a temporary basis.
    • Allow wealthy suburban areas to “adopt” a rural neighborhood through a coordinated charitable program.
    • Make substance abuse programs more available and inclusive to families. Create after-care substance abuse programs to provide an ongoing support system.
    • Give tax breaks to employers who give people a “raise” in the form of free childcare or transportation to work rather than just a salary increase.
    • Create shared homes and co-ops where the homeless can live with roommates.
    • Encourage more community-oriented, family first values in children.

Again, these are solutions A Paycheck Away players proposed to help solve homelessness after playing the game. Some of them might work, others wouldn’t. What works in one community might fail in another. The point here is to focus on the sheer volume of reactions and solutions we generated after just an hour of playing a game. It’s tough to get that type of engagement through a traditional presentation.

One of our goals for this game is to facilitate it for other groups in the future. In exchange for a donation to Dayspring Center, a temporary homeless shelter in Indianapolis, individuals or groups can purchase a game and hire a trained facilitator to come and lead the experience. Contact us to learn more. You can view a photo album from the event on our Facebook Page.