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Creating Games for Learning: Strategies for Learning in a ‘Different’ Way

Game-based Learning (GBL) has been making a strong foray into the world of corporate training in the past few years. Games are exciting and create a lasting impact. They are interactive – drawing out even the most reluctant learner to experience, do and learn. But can this medium be really effective for learning, a medium which predominantly caters to entertainment?

We explore some strategies – with suitable examples and evidence – that make GBL effective, thus answering this question in the affirmative!

Is it all about fun?

The biggest advantage that GBL brings to the table is that it has the element of excitement and the novelty of something ‘new’. Sure, serious games or learning games too need to engage the learner, but that cannot be the only objective of a serious game. There needs to be a definite learning objective and that needs to be incorporated in the game – as strongly as the ‘engaging’ elements. The engaging element can be introduced through the narrative, a vivid storyline or even creating a context for the learner – which the learner can relate to. Interactivities and other experiential exercises can then create the avenue for ‘learning’.

Similarly, there needs to be a balance between the visual appeal of a game and the game’s content. The visual appeal is the ‘hook’ that will attract the learner and implore him or her to explore the game. But, at the end, it is the content or the experience the game provides that will be the ultimate takeaway for the learner.

So creating a serious game is about balance – between ‘learning’ and ‘fun’, between visual appeal and content.

Too simple is too boring

For GBL to be effective, the learners need to be challenged with the activities and scenarios that the game puts forth. If it is too simplistic, it will fail at two levels. First, it will not be able to excite the learner and second, it will also fail to ‘teach’.

There are various ways of making a game challenging.

  • Keep a time limit for an activity – it’s a simple way of keeping your learners on their toes.
  • Create multiple layers of challenges that lead to the ultimate prize/goal. These challenges may increasingly become more difficult to push your learners to apply more. For instance, we created a game for a leading multinational bank where the learners embarked upon a Treasure Hunt. A series of questions were asked, each unearthing a ‘clue’. The first few clues were easy, but the others were tougher to get. The learner gets excited when he or she gets the first few clues but then has to work hard to get the rest – an experience which makes him or her to ponder more about the questions and try in earnest to get them right.
  • Creating consequences for the learners’ actions within the game can be a strategy to encourage the learners to take the game seriously. Negative points or penalties cab be built in to ensure that the learner ‘thinks’ during the course of the game

Competition is healthy

Games foster the spirit of competition and that in turn fosters learning. Points and scores provide the necessary encouragement to the learner as well as his peers. The learner wants to maintain his scores while his peers want to strive better to achieve them.

Among serious games, Word and Vocabulary building games have always been popular. A popular strategy employed by most of these games is a ‘Hall of Fame’. The Hall of Fame is an exhaustive listing of top players of the game, their scores as well as timings. These are often analyzed and the players are placed in ‘ranks’. New players are encouraged to beat the top scorers to achieve a ‘rank’. Old players are implored to keep up their scores in higher challenges to maintain their ranks. This provides a healthy stage for peer interaction and competition that ensures learner engagement.

Learning by doing

Another big advantage of GBL is that it provides the learners an opportunity to learn by doing. This is also a huge confidence boost for the learner. It is a virtual arena to master your skills before applying them in the real world, creating space for trying, making mistakes and learning from them. For such games, it is necessary to first gauge ‘where the learner is’ and then create supporting exercises that help him reach ‘where he wants to be’.

At G-Cube, we created a 3D modern-trade environment for a leading FMCG company, where learners could attain hands-on experience of an actual shop-floor and train on how to merchandise it best. We understood that while the learner had a good idea about how a shop floor looks, he needs help on gauging how it can best be utilized to merchandise his products. We created multiple shop-types and, through the 3D environment, the learners were given the opportunity to practice through various built-in interactivities like ‘click and drop’ the right product, ‘place’ the products to acquire fair share of shelf space and so on. There were no scores and multiple tries were allowed to encourage the learner to try till they succeed.

Building on what learners ‘know’

Serious games do not ‘present’ information like e-learning or traditional learning does. The learning happens during an ‘activity’ that the game presents and the learner often completes the activity with pre-existing knowledge and beliefs. Thus, serious games can re-enforce learning by providing challenging activities to the learner. They can make them think about what they ‘know’ and prod them to apply it into practical scenarios.

For instance, we created a maze-based game for a leading MNC bank which created real-life scenarios for their customer service officials. The starting point is the customer bay, where a customer poses a range of questions. By answering them correctly, they lead the customer up to the right window where his needs can be properly addressed. This game did not teach the learner anything new but re-enforced existing knowledge by a scenario-based maze.

The above strategies are only some of the many that are being developed in the field of GBL. With more and more sectors showing an interest in this method of learning and with newer learning platforms (like mobile devices) – these strategies continue to evolve and grow. G-Cube is excited about the growing interest and is fortunate to be doing some very interesting work in this field. For more on GBL, write to in**@gc**********.net.

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