game-based learning

“We learn everything that all the other schools learn, we just learn it differently.”

This is a quote from a middle school student at the Quest to Learn School that opened in Fall 2009. The school is the subject of a short YouTube video that does a fantastic job of explaining and showing the answer to the question, “why use games as learning and teaching tools?” Watch it below.

The entire school is organized around game design. The curriculum uses game concepts—missions, quests, challenges—to help kids learn things such as science, math, and literature.

Katie Salen and the Quest to Learn School

Katie Salen is the executive director of design at Quest to Learn, teaches game design, and runs a nonprofit institute called the Institute of Play. She says,

“We believe kids can and do learn in different ways – including digital. It’s a school that from the ground up has been designed to leverage the digital lives of kids…. it’s developed a pedagogical approach that leverages game-like learning.”

How so? Every class uses game concepts such as missions, challenges, and quests to allow kids to think about issues and solve complex problems.

Sound fishy? Can kids really learn well from this approach as opposed to say, a more traditional model of a teacher delivering a lecture, assigning reading and perhaps a project where the student writes a paper or prepares a posterboard?

Watch the video and see what you think. One class project focused on Aesop’s Fables. In a traditional class, the students might read several of the fables, talk about them in class, and perhaps write reflection papers on them or create their own modern fable. In Quest to Learn’s class, the kids work as a team to create a 3D game about the fables. They have to design and script the game, render it, and then “virtually” perform a fable in the game. Which approach do you think engages these students more and requires a greater amount of reflective thinking and problem-solving?

Bringing Game-Based Learning Into Corporate Training

So how does this translate into corporate training? Here are a few ways that come to mind:

  1. Structure an entire learning experience around a goal of designing a game. Give learners the topic, the learning objectives the game has to teach, and the freedom to create a game. Let them build the paper prototypes and have others play-test it. The learning comes from figuring out how you’d turn a topic or issue into a game.  We’ve done several learning game design workshops like this; people remain completely immersed in the experience the entire time.
  2. Create a multi-level digital game on your topic instead of a “click next” experience. Instead of telling people what they need to know, force them to find it or figure it out if they want to succeed in the game. Make succeeding in the game mirror what it takes to succeed in their jobs; for sales reps, success should mean they meet high sales goals… and so on. In the game, you make the measure of success hitting a targeted sales goal while making complaints and customer dissatisfaction negatively impact points or progress.
  3. Design and use a simulation. Forget about “presenting” the ideal team member traits and behaviors. Instead, let people rate their perceptions of themselves and then simulate a team experience. I designed a 90-minute simulation that showed the disconnect between employee’s perceptions of how they would behave as a project team and how they actually behaved when time and environmental pressures came into play. The post-simulation discussion helped people acknowledge these disconnects. It also gave them a framework for meaningful discussion. So we didn’t have to completely abandon the idea of an interactive discussion. We simply created an experience that could make the discussion far more meaningful than it otherwise would have been.

Getting Started With Game-Based Learning

I have authored a book with Dr. Karl Kapp called Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games. If you want to design your own learning game, then this is the best place to start. The book bridges the gap between instructional design and game design; it’s written to grow your game literacy and strengthen crucial game design skills. We share real examples of in-person and online games, and offer an online game for you to try as you read. We also walk you through evaluating entertainment and learning games, so you can apply the best to your own designs. Learn more about it here.