I spent close to a year laboring under the delusion that game based learning was all about incorporating course material into a game. After all, what else could it be? If I incorporate all the course learning objectives into a game setting and keep score – it qualifies as game based learning doesn’t it? No! It doesn’t! Research suggests that if learners are able to score and win the game without learning, they are more likely to do so. So what conclusion can we draw here? In order for a game to be educational, it is imperative that the learners be required to learn in order to score and win the game.What makes a good learning game? A good learning game would include the following essential elements:
- Continuous Challenge: First identify the learning objectives of the course material and create a series of challenges, with each challenge leading up to another. Set clear, short-term goals appropriate to the level of the learner/player and the context in the game. Each challenge needs to map to a learning objective. Challenges are the key engagement factor with learners adapting to the difficulty level being built up in stages.
- Interesting Storyline: Research suggests that rewriting course lesson content in the form of a story combined with a challenge for students to overcome significantly improves learning performance. The learner is hooked on when the story and the game are interwoven.
- Flexibility: Provide the learner with multiple ways to achieve each goal. Asking the learner a series of questions with options does not qualify as a game; it is nothing but a visual representation of a multiple choice question. Allow the learners to make a choice and design their own strategies while still achieving the learning objectives.
- Immediate Rewards: Instead of the learners just accumulating points on a scoreboard, provide them with immediate rewards such as new capabilities in the game environment or even unlocking a new task or level. The idea is to make the learner/player continue playing the game. This is something that I realized while playing the game “Mafia Wars” on Facebook. Even though the game isn’t challenging, the immediate rewards kept me hooked.
What do you think are the characteristics of a good learning game? Please feel free to comment.