ATD Blog

Got Game? But First, Make Sure You Know the Players

Friday, January 10, 2020

Are you intrigued with the idea of adding game aspects to your training, but don’t know where to start? Are you using game-based learning, but want to expand your current methods? As with other learning modalities, you need—first and foremost—to understand your learners.

“Never begin the design process with content. Instead, you need to know the target audience members’ goals, their authentic needs and motivation, along with your available resources for the project,” writes Zsolt Olah in the January 2020 issue of TD at Work,Game Thinking: From Content to Actions.”

Once you’ve aligned your focus to your learners and—if needed—changed how your stakeholders view game thinking, you can consider the best approach to adding game aspects to your learning and development initiatives.

Game-Based Learning Approaches

Olah describes seven, progressively more serious gameplay, approaches.

1. Playful learning. This approach may not have explicit game design elements. But for users, it’s more engaging and it feels different, so it captures learner attention and curiosity.

2. Structural gamification. Again, this approach may not specifically feature a change in learning content or design; rather, it uses a status or reward system to motivate learners.

3. Action or content gamification. Here, instructional designers add game design elements to an existing course to gamify content, creating a less-than-ideal learning solution.


4. Game-based assessments. In describing this tactic, Olah writes, “Games-based assessments are their own category because they are commonly used and misused.” These are used more for knowledge checks rather than to provide an opportunity for individuals to learn new material.

5. Gameful simulations. This approach adds game design elements to simulations, or the imitated or enactment of reality.

6. Serious games. Gameplay is at the heart of serious games—that is, the interaction between player and the game.

7. Open world experiences. There is limited opportunity for this approach, one where L&D professionals develop experiences that enable participants to freely interact with anything with no linear restrictions.


Taking Action

Once you're familiar with various avenues to adding game design elements to training or other development initiatives, you can take steps toward game-based learning. Even then, though, you may not actually be creating games just yet. As mentioned earlier, it’s critical to understand one’s learners—what motivates them, and their goals.

Are employees failing to perform because they weren’t trained, or are there other factors? Are they unmotivated? Are there circumstances that are preventing them from performing as they should? This must be understood before moving on.

To add game design elements, an L&D practitioner must also understand how games work—the rules, the environment in which the game is played, conflict and challenges that make the game a game, and how an individual can win a game. Getting together with other L&D pros who are also interested in games, as well as playing games yourself, will help you become more familiar with games and what design elements make sense for your performance challenge.

Game design elements can be used for more than training courses, Olah reminds us. Many learning management systems contain rewards, leaderboards, and badges. Work with your LMS administrator to learn what features your organization’s LMS includes. Be sure, as well, to award points and badges for behavior or actions you want learners to do.

Closing Thoughts

One final word of wisdom is to start where you are. For instance, working with your LMS administrator is a good first step—you may learn about features that help engage and motivate your learners that you didn’t know about. Are there performance support tools currently in use that could be made into gameful simulations, for example?

Finally, Olah quotes Arthur Ashe, “Do what you can. The one imperfect game or gamification design you attempt will be better than a perfect one you’ve never developed.”

About the Author

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

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