Have you ever been tasked with developing e-learning that needed to jolt people out entrenched viewpoints? It’s a challenge, and one I certainly haven’t always succeeded in meeting myself. What if you were charged with creating learning to tackle a big problem like poverty or homelessness?

The Urban Ministries of Durham, North Carolina worked with ad agency McKinney to create the game Spent. They don’t call this e-learning, and it’s certainly not a traditional course. But take 15 minutes to play it and you’ll see why I think it counts as a learning experience. Note that the game is US-centric, but the impact should

From the press release description:

  • Your savings are gone. You’ve lost your house. Accept the challenge to see if you can make it through the month on your last $1,000, learning quickly how changes in employment, housing, medical costs and other expenses can create an unexpected shortfall.
  • Play through a series of difficult challenges that require tough choices about work, where you live and what you can provide your family, seeing all too soon how decisions lead to unimagined consequences. Learn important facts about the condition of homelessness and the many services UMD provides.

The Flash design is very slick and smooth, but I think elements of this could be used even for lower budget development.

  • Start with a scenario that creates tension. Down to your last $1000 with no place to live? That’s tension, and you’re immediately drawn into the game. How many ethics e-learning courses could be better if we started with a scenario that sets the stage?
  • Give learners tough choices with consequences. The tough decisions in the game are all about trade-offs. Do you pay the electric bill or the gas bill when you can’t afford both? Do you opt to pay for health insurance or risk going without? Do you use your meager wages to pay for a tutor to help your child, or allow your child to fail a class? Do you take the time off to attend a grandparent’s funeral, knowing you’ll lose wages? These are realistic choices with realistic consequences. They aren’t simple right/wrong answers.
  • Make it usable. How many e-learning programs start with training on how to use the learning application itself? Spent is easy enough to use that you can jump right in and start making choices.
  • Let people make mistakes. We learn by making mistakes. The first time I played, I did survive the month, although with only $5 left. This second time I didn’t do so well, as you can see below.

You ran out of money on day 19

What do you see in this game that you could use in your own learning development?

10 thoughts on “E-learning That Makes You Make Tough Choices

  1. I love this teaching technique. It uses the theatrical technique of suspending reality and lets emotions burn the information into long term memory. A little adrenaline goes a long way. It also makes you have to solve a problem. Straight memorization would never have an impact like that.

  2. This is a great way to hit home your message. The emotional aspect in the game was the biggest draw. I really like their use of sounds to put you in the mindset of being in the situation especially the phone call with the collection agent

  3. Hi Christy, and other commenters,

    I’ve been researching recruitment tests and various other methods of elearning today. Some of which, I hate to say, seem unnecessarily dull.

    So it was refreshing to see elearning presented in a game format! (Although there does seem to be some debate here as to whether it’s a game or an elearning tool?) Unfortunately the game isn’t working in my browser (Google Chrome) but I’ll have a go later; seems like too interesting an idea to miss!

    Keep up the good blog 🙂

    – Jessie

  4. Really good resource makes people think. I don’t know what the budget was but I think this is a really good game based learning resource that uses many of the main elements of game theory and uses it well.

    I would have like to have seen all my choices on screen, but the main point of the game is to manage money and that is very clear from the start of the game. Does it matter if it is game based learning or e-learning? the point is that it bring the subject matter to a wide group of people and using game theory and learning theory people are hopeful going to have more than one try.

    A resource that will get people to think…

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. I think it’s great that even games are beginning to become tools for learning. Educational technology is evolving and growing each and every day, and it’s great to see some of the innovative approaches and methods being used today. In order to see more of them, it would probably be interesting or beneficial to go to an e learning conference, such as the E-Learning Summit in Washington, D.C. that is coming up.

  6. This was very interesting. Very very interesting. I’m not an educator by any means but I can see the value in such intensive games. I would certainly like to bring this sort of thought provocation to Haiti on my next trip. This will encourage the young civic leaders in the small towns to think outside the box.

    Good stuff and thanks.

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