10 eLearning Game Ideas for Instructional Designers

 In eLearning Brothers

As part of eLBX Online Gamification week, let’s take a look at this article from instructional designer Misty Harding on simple game ideas anyone can incorporate into their eLearning development!

Instructional Designers have the ability to make awesome eLearning games, they just don’t know it yet. Here are 10 simple eLearning game ideas that even non-programmer eLearning Designers can implement into their course design:

1. Put Some Skin in the Game:
Before the learner does anything, tell them what they’re about to do and ask them to “lock in” a guess as to how many they think they can identify, answer, pass, spot, etc. Then, display that locked-in guess using variables as they complete your game or activity. Right next to their displayed estimate, display their actual score. This creates an automatic feeling of investment on their part, and they engage more seriously with the activity or content. Think of this as being similar to Name That Tune – getting someone to commit to a challenge for themselves increases their investment in getting it right.

2. Give and Take:
Just like in a video game, let the learner see progress for something they do well and let them take a hit for something they miss. Video games allow people to level up, get better equipment, change their appearance, or get more points. Conversely, if you fail to block a punch your life force goes down. These immediate rewards and punishments create engagement and investment in the task. Simulate this instructionally. Give them points for what they do well, take points away for mistakes. I have engineered many activities to visually show the loss of progress for every slip-up. It makes them pay more attention because they know that they have to earn that point back to reach the 10 points they need to move on. More success and less failure leads to mastery.

3. I’ll Play in the Dark if I Have To:
It’s okay to let your learner fail. No game made this more clear to me than Angry Birds, where it almost seemed like the game’s level was designed to be challenging enough that learners were required to fail in order to learn enough to pass the level. Every bird, every try, was about learning how NOT to complete the puzzle until finally you learned how it DID work. Similarly, it’s okay to design games or activities that allow for the learner to fail a few times in order to succeed. It increases their emotional investment and commitment.

4. No Bathing Until We Beat This:
Building on the previous concept, sometimes you can use a timer to spice up the challenge. Then, the game or activity becomes not about just doing the task, but learning to do it well enough that you can do it under pressure and in a certain amount of time. Sometimes, this will require doing it over and over again until you can do it in that challenging amount of time.

5. Build it Up, Tear it Down, Love it Either Way:
Similar to my examples about popping balloons, shooting ducks, or bumping cars – let the learner have a visual reward for their progress. I’ve done something as simple as letting the learner add color to a picture for everything they do right, or BUILD a picture where pieces of it appear for everything they do right. You can also do more interesting or challenging things, or let them break something. Remember how fun it was to crash that bird into the wood structure and see it topple in Angry Birds? Even knocking something down can be fun, and all of it can be controlled with variables and image states and fun sounds—simple!

6. How Could I Not Love Me? I’m So Interesting:
We love to learn about ourselves. This was evidenced to me in my early days when I would train about personality styles in the classroom. People really engaged with the content when it was helping them to either learn about themselves or learn what “type” of something they were. This has held true for novelty things like mood rings or astrological signs all the way to formal assessments like IQ, learner types, Meyers-Briggs, etc. It’s all interesting because it’s about us. You can create interest in your course by finding ways to help the learner learn more about themselves, and then connecting it to the content. Let them take a little self-quiz or challenge that sets up a question for them to answer about themselves. The show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader became inherently interesting because it made you wonder – am I?  Use this dynamic to your advantage in learning by designing interactions that let the learner either learn something about what ‘kind’ of person they are (carefully…make it positive), or have a little fun with how much (or little) they know about something.

7. Exchange Entertainment for Education:
Some elements of games exist only for entertainment. They are not part of the challenge, they don’t earn points, and they don’t progress you to a new level; but, they’re fun. Sometimes, people like to do things just to see what happens, or to see a funny result. As an example, a colleague of mine once made a course where every time you rolled over the narrator’s face, his eyebrow would raise. People loved it. You found yourself doing it over and over because the visual, combined with the sound effect, was hilarious. It made you like your experience more, and you became more willing to engage. Try setting up an activity or challenge where the learner is rewarded with some entertainment for learning a key concept.

8. Create Some Mystery:
One thing gamers love is to solve larger problems or wars through smaller puzzles or battles. Every time they accomplish something small, they get one more piece of the bigger picture. Try creating an interesting larger mystery that the learner can start to solve through small achievements. Reward them with small hints or pictures of a bigger puzzle they can solve at the end. This “mystery” can be meaningful or simply entertaining.

9. Easter Eggs Aren’t Just for Easter Anymore: A common online and game concept, Easter eggs are secret, hidden elements within a website or course that have to be found through exploration or achievement. Once activated, they launch special content, videos, codes, etc. for the user. You could try starting a course by letting a learner know how many Easter eggs are buried within the course and what they might get if they can find them, or you could tie the Easter eggs to performance by letting them know if every time they score a perfect 5/5 on a game or section quiz, they can earn an Easter egg. The trick is to make those Easter eggs desirable. Get creative. One idea might be to have the Easter egg display a redemption code for a free soda or treat, redeemable at the Training/HR Department. Or maybe each Easter egg contains the clue to a riddle that, once solved, is redeemable for something.

10. Give Them a Boss Battle:
Remember that the big achievement for any gamer is beating the big boss at the end of a level. You can use this concept too at the end of a section or a course. Here is an example: have the boss be a dragon. But for every question they missed, they got hit with a fireball from the dragon. If they got hit with three fireballs, they failed the challenge and would have to take the entire course, so they really cared about beating this boss.

These ideas and many other gaming strategies are up for grabs. Don’t feel like you can’t execute against them just because you’re not a programmer or graphic artist. They’re achievable with some ingenuity and creativity and your learners will love you for it.

If you need some help getting started with games, we have game templates for Lectora, Articulate Storyline, and Adobe Captivate.



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*Originally published September 20, 2013.

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