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The Similarities of Learning and Game Experiences

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I’ve written a bit over on Model eLearning about some lessons that eLearning can learn from game design. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 if you’d like…let’s just say part 3 is in limbo until I figure out what I want to do with it.

Today, I want to broaden that a bit and speak to how the experiences of playing a game and engaging in a learning activity are similar. Yeah, I know that sounds similar, but it’s a different enough experience (I hope) that it’ll make sense. 

The Player/Learner Experience is Primary

This sounds foundational, but I think it’s important to focus on. Both in a learning experience, and in a game, you have a primary experiencer: the learner, and the player. And it’s important to keep those individuals in mind when your creating either. Just like you wouldn’t start to (I hope) design a learning experience without first understanding who your learners are, games have target markets and demographics that they are trying to hit. The market for Candy Crush is drastically different than the market for Sid Meier’s Civilization 6, and the core audiences of those games inform the choices that are made during the design.

But that’s not the whole picture. Even though there may be a core audience for both, there will always be outliers—so it’s important to identify who is on the outside of your audience as well—who is on the edges that might come in. And that changes based on how you’re going to deploy your course/game. Is it hosted on internal servers only for coworkers or friends? Or will it be for sale on a larger marketplace? What does the experience look like for someone who it wasn’t specifically designed for, and how can you onboard them into the process as smoothly as possible?

That’s also not to say that the learner experience is the only factor that’s in play when you’re designing a course or game. Does someone have to facilitate your course or moderate your game? What do those experiences look like? 

They May not Always Know What they’re doing

Which brings us here. Learners and players (particularly when they are new) won’t always know what they are doing. Games, particularly in recent years have gotten pretty good at including tutorial experiences for players to slowly scaffold up their learning until the training wheels come off and they can fully experience the game. Gone are the days of having to read a 50-page manual before firing up a video game.

Here, ironically, some learning experiences can play catchup. Orienting students to a new Learning Management System or course structure is always a challenge. Teaching students a new educational tool comes at a cognitive cost. One of the key questions we’re going to have to answer going forward is how can we continue to design rich, engaging educational experiences using 21st century technology without squandering our cognitive budget on learning the technology itself.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jessica B.

    Hi Dave,

    I appreciate the idea of catchup you’ve explored in this post. As designers, we have an opportunity to work through the onboarding, structure, and context to alleviate strain on the learner’s cognitive load.

    As a first semester online graduate student (after sixteen years hiatus), I’m doing a bit of catchup. In one course it’s been smooth, with proper scaffolding built into the course design. In my other course, I’ve been asked to jump into a game I wasn’t sure I was properly equipped to play. Yet in both courses, I’ve found the instructors and community of learners an invaluable part of the tutorial.

    I’m still waiting for Part 3 of your series!


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