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3 Tips for Learning Games and Gamification

Submitted by on July 22, 2014 – 1:24 pmNo Comment

eLearning Guild


The eLearning Guild recently released the free e-book, 84 Tips on New Instructional Design for New Instructional Technology so we are going to share some of these tips we learned over the next couple weeks. The first of this series is Twenty-one Tips for Putting Learning Goals and Learners Before Technology.

For this eBook, the eLearning Guild asked 21 learning professionals who have successfully melded new instruc­tional design with new instructional technologies to give their best tips; they have highlighted the tips from their featured contributors, and you can learn more about them at the bottom of this post. Click here to access the entire free e-book.

3 Tips for Learning Games and Gamification

Don’t be afraid of games; games are fun, we all love them. Create opportunities for learners to compete, against other learners, against themselves, or against the clock, and you have instant engagement. –Carolyn Stoll


“Gamification” of instructional content is becoming a common practice, but it is rare to see an actual instructional game. Instead, you’re more likely to come across a standard instructional activity with a game-like interface.

For example, we present learners with a standard multiple-choice quiz supple­mented with a Wheel of Fortune interface that allows learners to spin the wheel and earn points for correct answers. The game mechanics are incidental to the actual instruction: all of the content and instruction is in the multiple-choice interaction, with the Wheel of Fortune mechanics providing only an interesting but instructionally irrelevant buffer between content and learner. Instructional games can mean and be so much more.

A true instructional game marries learner behaviors, identified and described in in­structional objectives, with game mechanics.

Let’s first talk game mechanics. Game mechanics can be any mechanism commonly used in games. For example:

  • Time
  • Score
  • Chance (rolling dice, for example)
  • Rankings
  • Winning and losing conditions

These are just a few examples of mechanisms or conditions commonly found in games, and are often what make games fun. The next time you play a game with your friends and family, think about the mechanisms in the game itself. You’ll find many more common mechanics that make an activity a fun game.

A key to making an instructional game is to identify behaviors and success condi­tions in your instructional objectives that can manifest as a game mechanic.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re teaching a bank teller how to process checks brought in by bank customers. Your instructional objective is: “Given different styles of check, the bank teller will correctly identify the six primary elements of a check within fifteen seconds.” Identifying check components is the primary behavior, but notice that time is a success condition. This is because bank tell­ers must process customer requests quickly so that customers can move on with their busy days. A successful performance of this behavior will occur within fifteen seconds of having received the check.

But this success condition, time, is also a common game mechanic. Thus, if you create a game with a timer for the game mechanic, in which the learner has fif­teen seconds to successfully identify all the parts of a check, then the game me­chanic becomes part of the instructional objective. Unlike the Wheel of Fortune example, where the game mechanics were incidental or irrelevant to the instruc­tion, in this example the game mechanics are vital to the instruction because the game mechanic is a success condition of the instructional objective.

The moral of the story is this: Don’t stop being an instructional designer when thinking about introducing games into your instruction. Consider your instructional objectives and identify which of them include success conditions that might manifest in a game mechanic. The more of your target behaviors and success conditions that map to game mechanics, the more likely you are to create a true instructional game – a game that is fun and invites replay, which has a direct impact on your learners’ mastery of their new skills.

-Joe Totherow


Just because a client demands points, badges, and leaderboards (PBL) as part of the gamification learning solution, examine whether these elements would be effective in achieving the performance goals. Look at who your learners/play­ers are and what their intrinsic motivation for learning is. Sure, if the players are competitive in nature, then leaderboards could be a way to motivate engage­ment in the learning activities, but if the players are socially motivated or more “lone wolf,” then PBL could actually demotivate them. If you’re not sure what kind of players they are, then provide game elements that suit every player type. –Adrienne Gross, Beyond the Red Pen

About the Featured Tipsters

Carolyn StollCarolyn Stoll , Instructional Designer, University of Cincinnati

Carolyn Stoll, an instructional designer at the University of Cincinnati (UC), holds a BS degree in education from Miami University of Ohio and an MA degree in English. Before becoming an instructional designer, she taught first-year composition and technical writing at UC for 16 years. Her research interests focus on instructional technology and instructional design, topics on which she has spoken at regional and national conferences. She is currently an instructional designer in the College of Al­lied Health Sciences, where she works with faculty building online-learning content and courses.


Joe TotherowJoe Totherow , Senior Learning Technologist, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Joe Totherow, the senior learning technologist for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, has been an instructional technologist for 10 years, leveraging technology in creative ways to provide quality instruction to learners. He holds a PhD in philosophy.

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