Game theory has recently been gaining momentum in the field of instructional design, as it is commonly believed that the elements which motivate people to play games could be applied to learning situations in order to engage students. Theoretically it sounds wonderful – but can it be applied to real life learning situations?
Last fall I was charged with training my colleagues to prepare them for an upgrade of our learning management system. This sounded like a tedious task and one sure to make me an enemy within the group. How could I generate some fun and excitement around this routine training instead of becoming a source of frustration and obligation for my colleagues?
At the time I was reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, and the idea hit me. Why couldn’t I turn the training into a game?
FINDING THE NARRATIVE
And thus, the Blackboardians were born – a tribe of brightly colored aliens migrating from their old, disheveled planet to a shiny new one, the Planet 9. How would they transport all of their belongings (old course content) to their new home (upgraded system)? How would they organize their new homes (structure online courses) to make it easy to find things again? What new furniture (features) could they use on their new planet that they couldn’t on the old?
In all my communication with the staff around this training, I maintained the voice of the Commander, never breaking character. This was not only amusing, it helped to provide an immersive experience and maintain the excitement of the game. Combining something familiar (the process of moving) with something extraordinary (aliens!) helped to engage participants through whimsy without overwhelming them with a steep learning curve on how the game would work.
CREATING THE ENVIRONMENT
Devising the narrative was, by far, the hardest part of the process – but once that was done the rest flowed fairly easily. Designing the environment was time consuming – certainly more so than setting up a traditional training environment. Attempts to be entertaining while also ensuring a sound educational experience took time and energy to construct. Adding visual elements also took time, even though the images were gathered from the web (don’t tell) and altered in only small ways. The liberal use of these images helped to set the context, and I really felt it contributed to the participants’ engagement.
ADDING THE GAME MECHANICS
By pulling in images, creating characters with quirky names and personalities, suddenly I was able to bring the training to life. I built levels and rules, created a healthy competition with badges and a scoreboard, and then invited my colleagues to jump in!
I held my breath, awaiting their response. Suddenly words like “fun” and “creative” were being used to describe a task that is typically found to be mundane. I watched a healthy competition emerge as people became involved in completing those tasks. I built in many opportunities for the participants to choose their own paths, as well as the opportunities to explore personal interests and add creative flair to the experience.
In the end, people really felt that they learned something – and that was the most important part. Some of the positive feedback I received came from people who felt confident in going through with the upgrade, as well as re-engaged with the art of instructional design. Ultimately my goal was fulfilled when I heard, “You turned what I consider to be a boring task into something I looked forward to completing!”