We have all experienced that magic moment where we are completely immersed in an activity that makes us feel focused and invigorated by an activity. Often referred to as “being in the zone” by athletes, this positive emotional state is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the “flow”. This notion refers to a state of concentration that leads to a positive experience and outcome. While well-designed serious games have the capacity to achieve this, no comprehensive instructional design model exists to guide trainers in their development.
Creating challenging and engaging learning experiences is a challenge in itself for novice serious game designers. Whether you are dealing with hard or soft skills, you need to take into account learner differences and design a game that appeals to all senses (intellectual, emotional, physical). The learning pathway in the game is different for each learner, yet all learners must acquire the same skills upon completion. In other words you need to design your learning experience like a labyrinth in which each path available to the learner allows him or her to cover all that needs to be covered. Much like all “roads lead to Rome”, in this case Rome being the completion of all learning objectives.
There are many game design models emerging to support serious game developers, but there is often a need to follow a linear step-by-step process. I have found that instead of focusing on steps, you should explore all questions related to the 2 overarching themes: analyzing the content and defining the concept. While it is very difficult to explore such detail in a short post, here are some high-level considerations and recommendations when exploring each theme:
Analyzing the content:
- Learner analysis: Determine the learner characteristics (age, years of experience, etc) and their learning preferences (interests and motivations). Identify what skills and knowledge the learners already have, and the expected performance outcome following the training.
- Knowledge type: Review the content and establish whether the training revolves around theoretical concepts (mastery of facts, processes, or procedures), and/or application and problem solving. Then, explore the sequence of how the content will be presented and the potential activities that will stimulate the learner. The game rules and scoring index can be set once the content and concept are final.
- Pedagogical support: Define how feedback will be provided, and how the learner will be supported throughout the game. Consider what media will be incorporated (such as video segments, activities, job aids and help tabs), and how the branching will be done so that each activity is contingent on the learning pathway selected.
Defining the concept:
- Game play: Decide on the premise of the game, as in what is the plot or storyline. Decide on the rules, characters, challenges, and consequences of each level of the game. Incorporate randomness to ensure that the learning experience is varied.
- Learning context: Use the 5Ws of journalism (who, what, where, when, why) to iron out the details on the environment and how the content will be presented within the context.
There is a learning curve to master the art of serious game design, yet you will see the benefits of this instructional strategy from your first attempt. The best way to achieve the most impact is to surround yourself with seasoned instructional designers and technologists who will guide you through the process, all while considering the points raised in this post.