Save the Learners! Build an Open and Shut Serious Game Strategy

By Dan Keckan published March 11, 2016

eLearning, , , ,

(This article was published in the March, 2016 issue of Training Industry Magazine.)

Have you ever sat in front of an eLearning course that you spent 200-250 hours designing and developing and thought learners are going to love this course? They are going to love it so much, they will be motivated to take it. They are going to stick with it till the end and feel compelled to take it again as the Flow Theory suggests! If your answer is yes, then you have probably already incorporated a successful serious game strategy. If your answer is no then keep reading.

The Flow Theory as named by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian psychologist, is the mental state of a person being completely immersed in an activity or learning event. There have been studies on the Flow Theory and the relationship to games and skill development or behavior change. Here our concentration is on serious games, which in learning and development is the introduction of game mechanics to a skill or behavior simulation that impacts business objectives. Let’s assume you agree with the Flow Theory and that serious games have a positive effect on learners’ skill development or behavior change. Great, then follow along to build a successful serious game strategy.

Start with a needs analysis to understand the primary business objective or key performance indicators, in other words, how will the training impact business. Sound familiar? It should. Needs analysis is where you start when you embark on any sort of project. You will need to tie your skill development or behavior change to the business impact projected and measured in your post training evaluation period.

For example, your customer, Open-Shut Window Company, is offering window installers a 15 year warranty on all new home construction windows as long as the window installer uses your customers’ products and installation processes. In order for the installer to use the proper installation processes they must be trained or else your customer will be spending a lot of money to fulfill warranty claims. Not to mention the plethora of call-backs from disgruntled customers.

cinecraft elearning gamification game strategy

After you have completed the needs analysis it’s time to create a design document which should include an audience profile, learning objectives, outline tasks to be simulated, game strategy and assessment recommendation. This document will serve as your blueprint for the entire project.

Open-Shut Windows audience for this training is a window installer with a construction background, but not necessarily a strong understanding of proper window installation procedures. The audience is made up of primarily males between the ages of 18-40. Therefore, they have average computer skills, have an iPhone and in many cases a tablet or iPad. There is also a good portion of the audience that grew up with playing Nintendo, Xbox or Playstation. Certainly, a ripe audience for a serious game approach.

Your customer and you work on the learning objectives and it becomes very obvious that the content boils down to a fairly straightforward skill-based process, perfect for a simulation. At the completion of the training the learner will be able to:

  • Identify the tools necessary to complete the installation of a window in a new home.
  • Identify the type of window, flashing, sealant and foam necessary to complete an installation.
  • Demonstrate proper preparation for the install including precutting of all flashing and cleaning of necessary surfaces.
  • Demonstrate all of the twenty-five successive tasks in the window installation process.

An outline of details for the installation process are not necessary here. However, it is important to point out that based on the audience and learning objectives the a serious game could be a very effective strategy if done correctly.

Now that you have outlined the content and identified a serious game as your learning strategy, it is time to create a short list of game mechanics or “tools.” You will use these tools to increase the intrinsic value and help immerse the learner in the simulation. Gather your team together for a brainstorming session, and draw a picture of a toolbox on a whiteboard. Then beside it write the names of the tools you can use to increase intrinsic value in the simulation; theme, story, animation, virtual reality (VR), time, points, achievement and competition.

The theme should be a no-brainer, since the window installation process is very visual. Some processes are less visual and need a theme that may or may not represent the content. In this case it looks like a theme will fit your serious game strategy nicely.

In this scenario, creating a story is irrelevant, since this is a first-person point-of-view simulation. The learner will install the window, rather than making choices for a fictitious window installer.

So far you have placed theme tool into your toolbox and left story out. Next it’s time to look at virtual reality. Virtual reality is defined as a computer generated three-dimensional or two-dimensional simulation of an activity or process. Today you can use a lot of different tools to create this type of game mechanic. However, due to budget constraints and ROI projections a two-dimensional computer and mobile based simulation will work just fine. Make sure you list out all of the tools and scenery that will need to be designed by a graphic artist or purchased through a stock image company. Since you will be installing a window, you will need to create flashing, sealant, foam, gun, drill, level, measuring tape, box-cutter and pencil to begin. You will also need an inside and outside wall, window and weather-resistant barrier.

Time and points are often used, and for good reason. They provide the learner with immediate feedback and rewards based on the quality and quantity of which they simulate a process. Points refers to the quality to which the learner attempts the steps of the process, and time refers to the quantity or speed at which the learner attempts the steps of the process. Here, both should be placed in the toolbox to build intrinsic value.

Achievements are great in serious games in which tasks build on each other. They provide the learner with incentives for completing the previous task and future tasks. Remember, achievements should reflect motivations that are meaningful. For window installers achievement badges could reflect an apprentice, journeyman and master.
With salespeople they are inherently competitive, so using a leaderboard within your LMS (if you’re lucky enough to have one) is a no-brainer when creating competition in sales courses. Window installers are not known for being inherently competitive. However, in this case, points and time are great tools for populating a leaderboard. And building competitive spirit between window installers or between different window installation companies could be quite effective if the learners come back to beat their previous score or peers.

cinecraft gamification game strategy tools

Now that you have chosen your tools for your window installation game, you are ready to identify the assessment recommendation. Start with questions like:

  1. Will your game serve as your learners’ assessment? Or, will your game help to prepare your learners for an assessment?
  2. How will you assess skill development or behavior change?
  3. What data do you hope to gather that will lead to an impact on business?

To have the learner go out and install a window incorrectly can be costly. Therefore because the game is free to play as many times as the learner wishes you will want to use it to teach the tasks in the window installation process. The learner can go on a job site and demonstrate the proper window installation process after they have experienced success in the game. A foreman can oversee the process and use an online checklist to score the installers skill development. This level 3 assessment strategy will lead to a more skilled installation workforce and therefore less warranty claims.

More than likely you will want to abandon SCORM for xAPI to gather better data on your learners’ experience. However, in this particular window installation example it is not necessary to have xAPI because there is only an online checklist that can provide level 3 data.

While all of these considerations may sound daunting, incorporating a serious game strategy in the right project is an open and shut case. You will achieve a higher performing and more engaged workforce. Your learners will thank you for saving them from time wasted. And your company will thank for helping improve the bottom line.

As VP of eLearning and Instructional Design for Cinecraft Productions, Dan Keckan, helps organizations get as close to the skill or behavior to be learned. He does this by recommending video, eLearning and serious games in learning strategies to impact business results.