Making learning replayable – lessons from games

Making learning replayable – lessons from games

I’ve been following a few conversations over the past six months about the connection between game and learning design. Karl Kapp, a gamification expert, who writes extensively on the topic, suggests that learning designers should be able to make great games as they’re used to solving a lot of the same problems as game designers. Using Portal as an example, Richard Calcutt from Brightwave recently blogged how learning designers should look further into the game design process to learn about foreshadowing.

One of the fascinating things about great games is that the final product is at its best when the majority of the design effort is invisible. Studios spend months and years refining their designs, testing and discarding ideas, repeatedly simplifying, crafting the feeling of flow and working out when to deliver the perfect reward. The end product is so frictionless that simply playing a game will teach you only 10% of what it’s like to design one. The way to get a really good insight of the process is to build a game or listen to successful developers speaking about how they did it and the challenges they faced.

One of my favourite Game Developers Conference sessions was delivered by Luke Muscat from Halfbrick studios – the team who brought us Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride. In his talk Depth in Simplicity he explains the labour his team went through to push a simple proof of concept through to a highly polished game. Only by listening to Luke describe the process is it possible to start comprehending the huge effort and skill required to get players repeatedly coming back to play what most people would consider to be the simplest of games.

Helping learners find their flow

The need for replayability represents a big difference between games and most learning content. Games need to encourage players to constantly return – this is the process that spawned the gamification industry – whereas learning generally only needs to be engaged with a handful of times at most. Interestingly though, if we step back from learning courses and consider learning systems, portals and communities in the context of a game, the individual courses or conversations become levels or worlds and we can see just how important replayability, or retention, is in learning.

When we evaluate learning programmes we often see what should be families of content feeling disparate and unrelated as they’ve been written and developed by different teams using different platforms without consistent creative guidelines.  Now, imagine if levels in a game were created like this? Players would struggle to find their flow, understand the narrative and interact with the game. They wouldn’t be clear on where the next reward was coming from and would disengage from the game consigning it to commercial failure.

So, with this in mind, I’d fully encourage anyone from the learning industry interested in improving learner engagement to take a deeper look into the game design process. Game designers are solving some crucial interactive and emotional challenges that are not obvious by simply playing games.

Creating great digital experiences is hard. It takes time, expertise and a central focus on what motivates the user. We love seeing this level of passion in our industry so if you’ve seen a presentation from a learning developer who has sweated as much blood as Halfbrick studios to create a stand-out experience please share it with us.

Watch Luke’s presentation:

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