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When online learning meets gamification, education gets a big dose of fun

When online learning meets gamification, education gets a big dose of fun
By Stephanie Spinapolice
Nov 15, 2019
Slide decks are a poor—yet popular—option for teaching critical skills. Fortunately, new methods and technology are revolutionizing online learning.

Picture an online training program. What do you see? You’re probably envisioning a glorified PowerPoint presentation. It is likely a required curriculum where you simply sit, read, and listen—only moving to click the “next” button. 


Such online training is extremely common and, in most cases, extremely boring. But what if it didn’t have to be this way?


Online learning can be engaging and memorable


There is a stigma associated with online learning geared for adults. It’s not allowed to be fun; it must be serious. But, adults like to have fun too. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 72% of gamers are age 18 or older, with the average gamer age being 34. And, perhaps surprisingly, more women aged 18 and older play games (33%) than boys under age 18 (17%). 


In our experience, it is essential to make learning engaging and memorable. There are a variety of creative methods for transforming a dull online program into an immersive experience. Here are a few examples of how to improve online learning:


  • Rather than listing bullet points of tips or best practices, tell stories in a graphic novel format. 
  • Instead of solely asking straightforward, knowledge-based questions, assess learners’ knowledge more creatively. Use choose-your-own-adventure style experiences that show learners the impact of their actions. 
  • Convert lecture-based materials into game show-style online training, where players earn virtual coins as they learn new content.

What makes these approaches exciting is how you embed instruction into the gameplay. Oftentimes, the most engaging online training focuses on “gamifying” assessments. It holds learners’ attention far better than a boring slide presentation.


Innovative examples of integrating instruction with assessments


We have seen these techniques vastly improving the learning experience for a number of real-world initiatives.  For example, when teaching players how to recover from a natural disaster, we built a virtual environment for them to go inside a house impacted by a disaster. The goal was to search the home and answer questions to earn the codes needed to open a safe. Inside the safe, they had financial documents and emergency cash. 


As players explored and selected items, they received tips or were asked a question. For instance, when players selected a vehicle, they received guidance on how to inspect and document damages to their property. If players selected a damaged ceiling, they were asked what to do next to address the damage. Correct and incorrect answers both elicited key concepts to ensure all players received the same instruction.


ICF also created the “minimize the monster” game. In this game, players had to explore tips for reducing their risk of identity theft to shrink the “identity theft monster.” The selection of each tip provided a video-like presentation of content from a financial coach. Some of the questions included a quick quiz to check players’ understanding of the key concepts linked to learning objectives.


We have taught law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel about homemade explosives and bomb-making materials to look out for on a call. We achieved this by presenting a scenario where players pretended to be on a call with their partner while suspicious activity occurred. At multiple junctions, players determined what to do next and why. In this case, incorrect answers sent players back to the beginning because there is little room for error when dealing with explosive materials.


The right tools to support engaging learning


The idea of building such a complex, interactive environment can seem intimidating, but—fortunately—there are proven tools to help. At ICF, we built all of the aforementioned learning designs using a rapid development tool called Storyline 360. This software creates programs that:


  • Do not rely on Flash, which will go away in 2020
  • Can be hosted on a learning management system (LMS)
  • Operate across devices—phones, tablets, and personal computers
  • Is Section 508 compliant so it is accessible to those with disabilities

The possibilities of online learning are endless when you break out of the box of traditional page-by-page online learning. And, you’re not in it alone—there are tools out there that support this model and meet your organization’s needs. With the right expertise and platform, you can build a highly-realistic, effective learning program, even for the most challenging curriculum.

Go to ICF
Meet the author
  1. Stephanie Spinapolice, Senior Managing Consultant, Innovative Learning Solutions

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