Designing Games That Really Teach: Designing Games and Other Creative Activities Requires a Lot of Planning and a Solid Understanding about Training Goals. but It Also Requires Some Fun and Surprise to Keep the Learners Engaged

Article excerpt

What is it?

Chris Clarke-Epstein is a professional speaker and consultant who coauthored the book, The Instant Trainer with C. Leslie Charles. In their book, they list several criteria for game design based on principles developed by Ed Scannell and John Newstrom. "I would add one more thing to their list," writes Clarke-Epstein. "Games are fun!" But how does a trainer add fun to a game without sacrificing learning objectives?

How it works

Bruce Kuzmanich is a training manager and trainer for Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Illinois. He currently teaches teambuilding and problemsolving skills with Lego motorcycle kits, but originally, he started with puzzles. He used them to teach his students how to perform as a team, and he added an element of surprise to make it more interesting.

"I force them to go outside their teams in order to complete the projects by putting one piece they needed with another team's puzzle," says Kuzmanich. "Teams had to figure out how to get the piece they needed from the other team. It forced them to go outside their own team to be successful, which required negotiation."

That is an example of how a trainer can incorporate fun in a meaningful way. By adding unexpected elements to a game, learners are forced to deal with reality in a nonthreatening environment. The game is not a role play but an activity that allows people to be themselves.

This approach goes beyond role playing and puts the focus on learning. "People get flummoxed in role playing because people are threatened by it," says Clarke-Epstein. "Change is hard. People will resist it," she says. "If they resist it in a training class, they will resist it in the real world. I don't know how you do training without having people actively involved."

Kuzmanich is also cautious about role playing. "When you do a role-play activity, it is not really teaching you how to think," he says. "It is teaching you how to act in front of an audience. Role players are often trying to get points on how well they perform."


Games take a lot of preparation. "Lectures are easier," says Clarke-Epstein, who believes there are four components to any game or activity:

1| confidence in the value of the game

2| practice

3| written instructions

4| a script.

Other writers such as Scannell and Newstrom have listed a number of additional requirements which include being brief, using props, forcing participation, and being single-focused.

While all of these are important elements to a game, they do not provide a process for designing it. Sometimes trainers may not know where or how to begin.

Know your goals. Before trainers can design a game, it is necessary to know the learning goals it needs to accomplish. For example, a game to teach teambuilding should force the players to deal with issues they might actually encounter on the job. Kuzmanich brings reality into his Lego motorcycle activity by throwing in surprises such as an OSHA violation or a loss of power. These unexpected setbacks are designed to challenge the learners to think beyond the goal of the game or activity. …