Using games to enhance learning has been a widely-accepted tool for many years and has gained ground in this past decade*. Most business training workshops include at least a few team activities and “simulations”. They serve to get people up and moving about andworking together as a team, in addition to applying concepts in a “real world” scenario.
Will games add value to the students’ learning experience? Pilots have long been taught to fly using flight simulators. Video and computer games allow more people to “experience” more than they could in real-life or even in a mocked up scenario.
Studies have consistently shown that games can improve both memory and retention of concepts taught. As you decide the type and number of games to include in your eLearning, focus on games that teach your concept. I have been involved in workshops (not online) where the games were more like recess than lessons. Don’t just add games; add serious games with a learning objective.
Do I have the skill? This is the million dollar question. I have been playing around with programs to build or customize games. If your game is based on an already designed concept, such as Tic Tac Toe, find your way out of the maze, or Jeopardy, it will be a little easier. To design a new concept would take imagination way beyond anything I possess. Then there’s the skill to find or build the graphical elements. Putting the concept and the elements together will, in most cases, require some very good computer skills.
What are the options? The options are much fewer in number than in other eLearning features I have written about. For a review of just a few of the current applications available to build or customize games, check out this post. For the elements to put into them, you can start with the options I suggested in Five Things…Graphics. One option is to find a student programmer (at a local university) who will put your ideas into motion.
Don’t despair if you can’t find just the right game to teach your concept. In 1984 I played with a software flight simulator on a Compaq Portable; I didn’t learn to fly but I did internalize the difference between altitude and distance above the ground. Perhaps you can find existing games that you can use to meet your learning objectives even if they weren’t designed for that purpose.
How much functionality do you need from this tool? This really depends on your audience. A stand-alone TicTacToe game may wow your audience; or, you may have a technically sophisticated group of students who expect Wii type games even in their training. As the options for creating and customizing games increase, so will the expectations. What is acceptable today is likely to be “lame” in a year or two.
Will this tool work within my LMS? As always, you have to consider whether the application you choose will run on the web, how much bandwidth it requires, and if your students will be able to access it from anywhere. As far as I know, no LMS has built-in game blocks, so all options will have to be tested for compatibility. Most importantly, you’ll need to work with your IT department or web hosts to make sure that your server can handle users playing games. If you use applications such as the Engage, this isn’t going to be a problem. But if you go all out and have sound effects, videos, complex algorithms, and students playing simultaneously in an online game, you could experience problems.
*There is so much material on this topic that it is impossible to list everything here. These are a good place to start for both background and ideas for using games in your eLearning courses:
- Games and Simulations (The eLearning Coach)
- Using Computer Games As A Professional Learning Tool (it is tech)
- Using virtual worlds and video games to teach the lessons of reality (Scientific American)
- School Uses Video Games To Teach Thinking Skills (NPR)
- America’s Army is a series of video games used for recruitment, communication, and training. Even if you’re not in the soldier business, this is a great model to provide ideas on how to leverage this technology to your advantage.
- Games-based Learning for Leaders: How Video Games Can Improve Literacy in One Semester (GetIdeas)