Serious Games by Serious Instructional Designers

Jaime Henderson, Valerie Hainley

The current buzzword in the e-learning community is game-based learning or serious games — games whose primary focus is education not entertainment. Until recently, much e-learning consisted of page-turner lessons created in an attempt to fill the growing demand for online courses. However, e-learning is moving beyond merely digitizing traditional classroom course content for online accessibility. These serious games are becoming the new model for e-learning.

Serious games are sometimes produced using multimillion dollar game engines; however, there are other more affordable options available to produce game-based learning. A good game, including a serious game, consists of a story, a clear goal, a significant yet not impossible challenge, meaningful actions, and appropriate feedback all rolled up in an attention-getting package.

A challenge for instructional designers in creating these serious games is changing our mindset from the traditional presentation of the lesson followed by testing to assess student comprehension. These lessons are typically in text format followed by a multiple choice test. Even when we try to jazz it up with graphics and interactivity, it is still the same old thing. In creating games, we need to move away from putting text on a screen to creating engaging learning experiences. So, how do we make this move from instructional designers to serious game designers? What do instructional designers need to do differently?

This session will describe the challenges and lessons learned in designing two game-based courses for the US Army. We’ve had to adapt everything from storyboarding to the roles of the development team members. Instructional designers need to know how games work and how to keep the educational objective from being obscured by the entertainment and glitz of the game.

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