Game Based Learning – It’s not all leader boards, badges and points

1. Play some games
If you are going to start on a game based learning project then you are going to need to understand how games work, the types of games that are available and what types of games you enjoy. I’ve regularly come across from people who want to get involved in game based learning and they have never played a computer game!

You don’t need to go and spend hundreds of dollars or pounds on a console. You can get games for your mobile, tablet or your PC for a few pounds and many games are now free for the first few levels.

Make sure that you get a good range of games – think about type, audience, style and genre. Don’t just buy games that you like and don’t spend too much time on one game. Spend some time paying each game.

Play each game and make a list of the things that you like, don’t like and list features that you find interesting. Start thinking about what is attracting you to particular games, is it the graphic design are their elements of the gameplay and interface that is compelling. If possible play some multi-player games and look at how players interaction and work together within games.

If you find anything of interest make a note of it, you want to start to build a list of the things that you are regularly finding in games. If you continue to review and play games you will start to look at more detailed elements within games like level design, reward systems, progression, knowledge acquisition and character recovery and performance. This elements can all be applied to how you create your e-learning courses and projects. Reward systems is an obvious and overused element from games that has been used in game based learning and e-learning but I’m personally interested in recovery and recuperation within games and how this can be used within e-learning design.

Think about how multi-player games and co-operation can be used in team building and social e-learning.

I’d suggest that you also play games from the last 20 years, look at classic games like Pac Man, Bubble Bobble, Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart, Sonic and see how those games were constructed. Look at how coins are used in reward systems, lives and levels are used in progression and how secret levels are used within game to reward exploration.

As you begin to look at more games you will how the concepts of recovery, recuperation, co-operation have developed further over the last 20 years.

2. Find a games designer
If you are going to get involved in game based learning then it makes sense to link up with a  games designer, a designer as opposed to a programmer. If you can find someone who has been involved in the creation and design of games then they can bring some game design techniques to your learning design. It is a great idea to mix up e-learning design and game design on projects if you have the opportunity.

A game designer will understand the mechanics of how a game work. We’ve been able to combine e-learning design and game design into many projects and we’ve had several game designers who developed into full e-learning designers and still continuing as game designers.

3. Speak to you local college and university
See if your local university has a computer game design degree. We set up links with 2 local universities over a number of years involving work experience programme and workshops – we will able to learn from their course students and also share our experience in e-learning and interface design.

If you are able to set up a link you should treat this as a 2 way relationship you need to be able to share your experience in e-learning design and also learning from the computer game design course. We were able to provide access to some of our software and we created a workshop called creating a learning game in a day – we treated this like a commercial project and put a lot of time into setting up the day at the university. The work created from the university course was excellent during the session and there was a lot of shared learning during the session.

4. It’s not all leader boards, badges and points
It is not all about leaderboard and winning points.

I read lots of articles about how games based learning is about leaderboards and winning shields, points and rewards. It can be part of it – but it is not everything.

Game based learning can be part of your design toolbox – it doesn’t need to be everything. People have got confused that you have to use 100% game based learning or nothing – wrong! Game design has lots of techniques that can be applied to a range of technologies from mobile, programming to e-learning.

Game based learning can be very subtle – you can apply game design theory and techniques to your e-learning design. It does not need to be a game based learning project to use game theory and design.

There are some great techniques from game design such as exploration and recovery that can be incorporated into e-learning design. The first games like pacman had 3 lives many modern games incorporate recovery allowing the user to have a longer game experience – can you apply recovery to your e-learning design? Do you lock out users if they get a test wrong? Do you make users have to start a course again if they get a test wrong? How does a user navigation through course content?

A basic understanding of game design will lead to a greater understanding of how you can improve your own e-learning and instructional design.

5. Read and watch some videos
There are some great publications supporting game design and game based learning. Edge magazine has some excellent articles on the industry and also has some of the best reviews.

GamesBrief is a website about the business of games and has some excellent videos and and presentations from Nicholas Novell – this will give you an insight into the commercial elements of how games are created and what makes games successful.

Jane McGongal is one of the leaders in game design.

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