Put Your Learner at “Risk”

You know the old saying, “No risk, no reward.” Lots of training has no risk and, for most learners, it has no reward.

Nothing gets the heart pounding or the sweat beading on your brow like the prospect of messing up a major project at work or shutting down a production line because of a dumb mistake that you’ve made.

Unfortunately, in most learning environments, the thought of increasing a learner’s pulse or causing him or her to sweat rarely occurs to the instructional designer. In fact, emotion is often times purposefully kept out of learning design.

Sure we talk about the affective domain…but rarely do we use it.

On the other hand, games put players at risk. In Monopoly, you risk going bankrupt. In first-person shooter games, you risk death (and having to start over.) In Angry Birds, you risk allowing the pigs to survive and having to play the level yet again.

In almost any game a player risks losing. Every time you play a game, you are putting yourself in some type of risk. The most obvious being the risk of losing. This sense of risk heightens focus, increases your heartbeat and adds to the excitement of victory and the agony of defeat.

Putting someone in “mock” risk makes a game fun and interesting. In contrast, most online learning and classroom experiences do not put the learners in any kind of “mock” risk. The learner doesn’t feel that he or she has anything at stake. They have no vested interest in the outcome or the objectives. This leads to an attitude of not caring about what is happening in the learning.

When designing a learning event, think of how the learner can be engaged within the instruction by presenting some type of risk. A simple, and sometimes overused, risk technique is to use the concept of “time” to add risk. The learner risks running out of time and, therefore, losing. Other techniques include placing the learner at the center of a story in which the main character is in danger.

Or using a question “run” in which the learner must answer five questions correctly in a row or risk having to answer another set of five questions. If you add points into a course, you can even have learners risk those points when answering questions. “I bet five points on the accuracy of my answer.”

Think of different methods of adding risk to your instruction to make it more like a game. This adds interest and excitement to your instruction.

Or better yet, use a game for the learning, force the learner to become engaged in a mock risk like going bankrupt or shutting down a production line if he or she does the wrong thing. The outcome will be more engaged and focused learners who actually relish the “risk.”

Posted in: Design, Games

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Karl Kapp
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