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.

Divider for Game Interview
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