A few considerations when designing a game for your next training

In Monday’s episode of the Train Like You Listen podcast, Heather spoke with our colleague, Lauren Wescott, about her recent experiences designing games for the training room. Lauren spoke briefly about cooperative vs. competitive games, and what each type of game could bring to the training room. If you’re looking to bring a game into your next training program, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:

“Games” and “Gamification” are not the same thing

Games are something you play. Gamification is an intentional design strategy. Playing Jeopardy or awarding points for correct answers doesn’t really mean you’ve “gamified” a training program.

In their book For The Win, Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter suggest that true gamification goes beyond points, badges and leaderboards and includes a variety of elements such as:

  • Constraints
  • Emotions
  • Narrative/storyline
  • Learner growth and development
  • Relationships
  • Challenges
  • Elements of chance
  • Competition or cooperation
  • Feedback
  • Resource acquisition
  • Rewards
  • Transactions between players
  • Turns
  • Win, lose and draw states
  • Achievements
  • Avatars
  • Badges
  • Boss fights/culminating challenges
  • Collections (of badges, resources, etc)
  • Combat
  • Content unlocking
  • Gifting
  • Leaderboards
  • Levels
  • Points
  • Quests
  • Social graphs
  • Teams
  • Virtual goods

If you’d like to read about real life examples of some of these elements in action, Zsolt Olah chronicled his experiences in this 2018 case study published in eLearning Industry.

Pros and Cons of “Competitive” Games

As mentioned above, competition can be a key element in games – whether it’s a board game you play at home like Monopoly, a game played on Sundays (like football) or a game you’d play in the training room. In my experience, competitive games – a game in which there is one winner (and potentially a lot of losers) is the most common type of game used in training settings.

Competitive games offer a variety of pros, including:

  • Engaging those who like to win
  • Offering a sense of “play”
  • An experience similar to activities (such as Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit) that learners have played before
  • A goal
  • Some competitive games include teamwork
  • Simulating the competition that some in industries such as sales may experience in real life
  • Opportunities to simulate real life challenges

Drawbacks of competitive games may include:

  • Participants focusing more on the rules and winning while losing sight of the intended point of the game
  • Games designed after Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit focus more on knowledge and less on the demonstration of skills learned
  • Some participants may be turned off by needing to engage in competition and/or may fall so far behind in the game that they lose interest

Pros and Cons of “Cooperative” Games

I’ll admit that the genre of cooperative games is relatively new to me. It’s not uncommon for others with whom I’m talking to look puzzled and ask: “What’s a cooperative game?” when I’m speaking about different types of games, which makes me think I’m not alone in my lifelong ignorance to the existence of cooperative games.

Cooperative games, in a nut shell, are games where players work together to accomplish a common goal. “Winning” is often measured by “beating” the game. In the game Pandemic, for example, players work together to try to stop a global outbreak of diseases. Winning happens when all of the diseases have been snuffed out. Losing happens if the diseases take over the world. Win or lose, all of the players are in the experience together.

In my limited experience with these types of games, here are some of the pros I’ve found:

  • Learners must stay engaged or they’ll be letting their colleagues down
  • While there’s always an emphasis on winning, learners generally don’t lose sight of the point of the exercise and argue with one another over the technicality of certain rules
  • De-emphasizes competition while emphasizing skills such as group decision-making, collaboration, cooperation and communication

Some of the drawbacks of cooperative games include:

  • Because this genre is less common and rules of the game can sometimes be complex, learners need some time to grow comfortable with the rules and the activity… I’ve not yet seen a “short” (15-20 minute) cooperative game
  • Planning and design of a cooperative game can be intensive

If you’d like to explore the genre of cooperative games in more depth, the two examples that Lauren offered during Monday’s podcast were:

A few final considerations

Games can be fun, engaging and memorable ways for learners to grasp important concepts and skills. Take great care, however, because as many people noted when I posted on LinkedIn about using games in the training setting, games can also turn many learners off. Some comments included:

“I use [games] sparingly because games for the sake of games is annoying as heck.”

“Pictionary with a group of medical assistants to practice vocabulary, always a huge hit. Build a spaghetti tower that can hold a marshmallow with a bunch of programmers.. no.”

“I tend to see games being used where there’s not really a good link to the learning, applying or recalling the actual concept that should be supported. Plus, I personally am not a game person.”

“Earning badges probably works for many people especially if there are incentives connected. But for me, not even then. It always strikes me about the same as training dogs with treats.”

As these comments show, great care should be taken when it comes to designing and incorporating games or game elements into your next training program.

If you’d like to know more about a cooperative game our organization created for training and presentation skills (called: Train the Trainer: The Game), drop me a line!

What do you think? Competitive games in the training room? Cooperative games? Stay away from games? Let’s hear some thoughts in the comment section!

Ten Learning and Development Resources

As the decade closes, I would be remiss not to reflect on how my career has evolved over the last 10 years. I have been an instructional designer for the majority of this decade, thanks in no small part to the immense amount of resources available in the learning and development field. Continue reading

Comparing ILT, vILT and elearning

Last week I wrote about the strengths of elearning vs. instructor-led training (ILT). In the comment section, someone suggested that it would be interesting to see a third column in the comparison: virtual instructor-led training (vILT). I’m nothing if not a man of the people, so I’m giving them what they want.

Something I found interesting when I added the vILT column is that I couldn’t really come up with anything unique to vILT. Every item checked off for vILT is shared by either ILT or elearning. As I studied this more, I had to pause. While vILT by its nature is instructor-led and thus will obviously share some traits with ILT, it also has some things in common only with elearning.

There’s nothing in this chart to suggest that any one of these formal training methods is superior to either of the other two. It really comes down to the problem you’re looking to solve.

Need to deploy something rapidly across multiple countries and continents in multiple languages? Elearning may be your best bet.

Have an audience of learners that doesn’t have access to reliable Internet? More traditional classroom-based learning (ILT) may need to be your solution.

What’s missing from this chart when it comes to advantages of these three delivery methods? Is there anything unique to vILT that neither ILT nor elearning have? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comment section.

Why didn’t elearning ever kill the Instructor-led training star?

Last Wednesday I was a guest on dominKnow’s Instructional Designers In Offices Drinking Coffee (IDIODC) show and we spoke about Instructor-led training (ILT) and the value it still has in today’s world of learning. During the show, we reminisced about predictions during the early 2000s that ILT would eventually be replaced by elearning and other technologies.

As we talked, there was consensus that both elearning and ILT belong in every instructional designer’s tool bag. My company has certainly had conversations with clients in which we entered the meeting assuming the best solution would be elearning, but after asking some probing questions it turned out that ILT was the best solution (and vice versa).

If your needs assessment determines that a formal training intervention is the best solution and you’re trying to decide whether you should go the elearning route or the ILT route, perhaps you’ll find the following comparison helpful:

Do you agree with the comparison? Do you see it differently? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comment section.

Should Training Be Fun?

There was a discussion on social media this week around the necessity of fun in training. I stared at the post for a long time and trying to decide if, in fact, fun is something that should be included in all training. I spent a lot of time thinking about this over the last 24 hours, and think this is an interesting conversation we should be having in L&D. Continue reading

Great Presentations Start Here

A great presentation involves planning, evidence-based instructional design, engaging delivery, compelling visuals and some way for people to do something new or differently or better as a result. Easy, right?

Maybe not so much. I’ve never met a single person who could do every one of those things well. So how can someone cobble together a great presentation with all of those elements? Continue reading

Why Are We Still Talking About Microlearning?

Years ago, I had a director who had perfected the art of what our team called the “drive-by”.  A drive-by from this director involved him asking you for a “really quick favor” in which you would be asked to work on a pet-project of some sort that often involved a new technology or new industry trend he wanted to try out. These projects ranged from the latest video technologies, new StoryLine features, Moocs, gamification, leaderboards, performance support, etc… If ATD or other industry leaders had it on their radar, he had a pet-project targeted. Being asked to be involved was a compliment, even if other work had to be balanced when asked. Continue reading

Six Scary Mistakes You Can Make In Course Design

Course design can be scary. There are a lot of logistics to consider, the content needs to be correct and put together in a way that makes sense, and the participants must engage with the content to learn. There is a lot of art and a lot of science to course design, and many books/principles/etc. have been written to simplify the process.  So far, simplifying course design has been fairly unattainable. Continue reading