What would your content look like as an experience? Then what would that be like one step backwards? 

This is the question that we started working towards in my previous post on gamification. Last time we looked at why gamification is garbage, but why borrowing from digital games and game design is a rich area for learning design innovation. Let’s dive back in.

Appropriating from digital experiences

Ok, so what can we learn from games that isn’t just attaching points to things (a la gamification)? There is of course a very long list, but just going to give you a few today.

And as an example, do you recognise this door?

There is a cool story about it that I’ll tell you in a second. First, let’s look at the idea of learning by doing.

Learning by doing 

Gaming experiences are fundamentally defined by action and choice. You enter a system with its own nature, that you can then poke and prod, and through actions, choices and feedback – you can learn about the ways things work.

For example the game developer Zachtronics has some fantastic experiences where you are given a bunch of components and then given the chance to learn how to build things efficiently and effectively.

In this sort of learning experience you are discovering, rather than being told, the core principles. Because of this you walk out with a far more tacit understanding of the system than if you were told directly about the principles that define it. 

The key reflective learning design question that comes out of this is: ’How could learners be helped to understand this concept by doing something, rather than being directly told about it’. Granted this is not always possible, but it’s possible far more often than is typically thought.

Using emotions and intrigue to drive engagement and meaning

Learning is about creating clarity and new awareness, so purposeful obfuscation seems to exist in direct opposition to this. However, infusing content with mystery creates interest, curiosity, engagement and therefore learning.

So the story about the door? There is no story, it’s a random internet picture. But I made you want the story, and that is why you are annoyed at me right now. We are very susceptible to wanting to know the endpoint to a mystery, so positioning your content as an enigma to unpack can be a way to get traction and pull people through.

Leveraging imagination to provide experience at a budget

Digital game designers have always had to deal with technical and budgetary constraints. From the limitations on the amount of pixelated characters you could show on screen at any one time to the number of levels or scenarios you could afford to make. While this perhaps becomes less apparent now days with big budget cinematic titles, if you look at the games produced by smaller studios (even as small as 1 or 2 people) you can see the ingenious ways they are making use of key components to get as close to the experience they want to create without it becoming unfeasible. For example, text adventure games take this idea to the far end of the production/efficiency spectrum.

“You stand in a forest. You can see a path that leads to a dark lake. In the distance a castle sits on a outcrop, and you spy the winding path through the trees that leads that way”

With a few simple sentences you have now created a 3D world that people can walk through and interact with using the most powerful rendering engine available, the human imagination. Board games, conversation-based role playing games and other types of games show that you can present a space in which to interact and learn without spending aeons developing photorealistic verisimilitude. 

Your content as an experience 

Let’s put some of these ideas together with a challenge. 

Put on your blue sky hat and imagine teaching part of your content as one of the following. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.

  • Boardgame
  • Fairground ride
  • Scavenger hunt
  • A guided podcast tour
  • A museum exhibition
  • A puppet show
  • An interactive/immersive art performance/installation
  • A piece of architecture
  • A piece of playground equipment
  • A choose-your-own-adventure story 

I’m sure you came up with some interesting ideas – but why are we engaging with this (rather silly) exercise? Asking these questions allows you to move beyond looking at your teaching materials as content that needs to be transmitted, but rather as an experience that someone is taking. 

Okay, so now take a step back – think about how you could embody one of your ideas using some more pragmatic means that you actually have at your disposal. How can you use imagination and storytelling to fill in the gaps of what you want to create? Does a piece of  architecture become a narrative description or a simple sketch? Does a podcast tour become a series of location slides with audio? 

Hopefully through this process you have a chance to take a fresh look at you teaching and see how you might be able to come at it from a new direction.

One last recommendation. Play some video games. You’ll be amazed what you can learn. And because now it’s classified as research. 

Feature image by Dave Photoz.

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