To ensure that the learning goals of a game, gamification or simulation are met, the first priority is to design the interactive learning event to focus on learning objectives from the beginning and not as an afterthought. One can’t bolt game elements onto traditional learning after it has been developed and expect that to be effective, interesting or even instructional. Instead, you need to design the interactions, storyline, feedback, point system, badges and levels in a manner that reflect the goal of the game, gamification or simulation from the beginning.
The first step to achieving the goal is to co-design instructional elements along with gameplay elements. Designing the elements together means that the fun and non-entertainment goals “grow up” together and are in harmony as opposed to fighting one another for dominance. Too many interactive learning experiences error on one side or the other and fall short of their goals.
Second, research strongly indicates that what makes an interactive learning experience effective for learning is the level of activity of the players as they participate in the activity. If learners are engaged, they learn more and retain the knowledge longer. If the interactive learning event has a large number of passive elements and the learner is forced to observe for much of the interactive learning event, the learning is limited. Design with interactivity in mind. Create opportunities for the players to be interactive with the content of the interactive learning event and with each other. The higher the level of interactivity, the more engaged the learner and the more likely one will achieve the desired non-entertainment outcomes.
Third, create a compelling story within the ILE that is tied directly to the desired learning outcome or message. For an ILE to be successful in changing attitudes, behavior or helping someone learn, it needs to engage the learner within the story of the game.
The activities within the story need to be linked to the goals of the game, gamification and simulation and that link should be made explicit to the learners. The learner takes action within the story to help others, to further a cause or to learn a proper behavior.
And finally, test and retest. Make sure that the interactive learning event is engaging the learners, don’t take it for granted. Conduct evaluations and “talk alouds” to determine what learners are thinking as they experience the interactive learning event. Don’t take anything for granted, test assumptions, pre- and post-test attitudes or level of knowledge, observe what players do, modify the game based on input from live players. The best games, gamification and simulations are not created by accident. Study how learners react to the interactive learning event you created and modify accordingly.
To learn more, check out this report by the eLearning Guild called Gamification, Games, and Learning: What Managers and Practitioners Need to Know