Integrating Game Design Principles into Instructional Design for e-Learning

These are my live blogged notes from the webinar. Any typos, awkward phrasing, or errors are mine, not the presenter’s. My side commentary in italics.

Integrating Game Design Principles into Instructional Design for e-Learning

Webinar presented by Ethan Edwards of Allen Interactions (Allen Interactions blog)

Learning Objectives
-Identify the characteristics of games that create motivation and engagement.
-Integrate game structures into instructional designs for standard e-learning content.

What is the appeal of gaming principles for learning?

  • Most people said “engaging” in the poll
  • Active and challenging were 2nd and 3rd choices


  • Jeopardy example
  • Snakes and Ladders–typical board game adaptation with quiz questions Sheesh, the dice rolling animation takes forever. That would get old really fast.
  • Game show variations

High Score!The non-examples were fun, active, familiar, but not really engaging, focused, or task-oriented. They are just tests hidden behind a game skin.

Example of a real game: Diner Dash: manage customers at a restaurant, juggle multiple tasks at once, work fast enough to keep customers happy

If we want to engage people like they are engaged in real games, we need to look at how games really work, not just putting the superficial elements on top.

As you play a game, you get better: you learn. There’s no real way to get better at Jeopardy other than studying; studying isn’t a game activity. Jeopardy is a glorified assessment/test, not really teaching anything.

Realistically, most of us don’t have the kind of resources to do full game development. Most of the real games like Diner Dash just consume time, don’t teach us something useful.

What can we take from gaming?

  • Engaging
  • Focused
  • Task-oriented

Forget about making it fun & colorful, focus on making it engaging

Example: Locating an earthquake’s epicenter. Not actually a game, but interactive and focused and you get feedback. It makes you want to do it again and make challenges for yourself.

What design element is most important? (audience poll)

  • Increased risk: #1 choice in the poll
  • Expanded choices & alternative reality choices 2 & 3


  • Sense of consequence. Failure must matter
  • Failure must be possible (at first, likely)
  • Failure should not be the final result
  • Minimize randomness (no spinners or dice). People take responsibility for risk and move to minimize it, but if it’s really random, people don’t take control of consequences themselves.

Meaningful Choices

  • Clear & accessible
  • Promote thought, not guessing
  • Risk commensurate with choices

In the non-examples, risk is the same regardless of the choice

Compelling Frame

  • Rules add up to create a rational universe. The game world/frame should make sense within itself, even if it isn’t completely realistic
  • Create formal links to the real world
  • Makes intrinsic feedback possible. Good games don’t tell you if you’re succeeding or failing, you see it by the consequences of choices

Example: supervisor effectiveness training where you talk to people in cubicles about employee security/workplace violence. You assess risks based on employee behavior, prioritize threats. This example is in one of the Michael Allen books; I remember reading about it but not which book. The initial feedback in this example is not really intrinsic; it’s more of the “No, find the more pressing concern” or “Yes, that’s right by the guidelines.” However, when you actually get to question an employee, the feedback is more intrinsic, with more realistic human-sounding responses to questions rather than simply telling. The feedback is a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic, which maybe is necessary but does feel like it breaks the “flow” of the game.

This game has more realistic choices and consequences, with some risk for poor choices.

Example: Stock room organizing training for a shoe store. Need employees to master this task to the point where it becomes automatic.

Three different levels like a real game

  1. No timing
  2. More pressure because new shoe boxes are arriving on a conveyor. You have to get the box in the right place before it scrolls off the screen.
  3. Includes time pressure, plus the shelves are more full so you have to plan ahead to make gaps before boxes are visible

Gives them real choices, actions which are close to those they really need to do

Example: Police training on gang symbols. Lots of content embedded in the resources of the game, but you don’t have to go through it in a linear order. World is compelling because of risk. Starts as you are patrolling a street and you have to identify what to pay attention to (graffiti etc.) If you want to go look up info, the resource is available to support.


Q: How does competition impact effectiveness?

A: It can improve it; a Hall of Fame with a group of employees who work together can be effective. We had “Grammar Games” at a previous company to work on improving everyone’s writing and citation skills. It was a lot of fun, and the competition of having

Q: Speed challenges work well for procedures that require automaticity. What other designs match cognitive needs?

A: Create an environment where they make the same choices in the game that they need to make in the real world. What is the flaw in reasoning that will commonly happen? How do you create an environment that makes that flaw in reasoning determine success/failure? If you emphasize speed over accuracy, you may lose thoughtfulness.

Q: Where the games developed in Flash? With a dedicated programmer?

A: Yes, they are Flash, and you need a real programmer. (With a side note that Zebra will address that issue, but right now it’s all Flash)

Image Credit:

High Score by meddygarnet

9 thoughts on “Integrating Game Design Principles into Instructional Design for e-Learning

  1. Thanks so much for this really interesting synopsis. One of the main issues that I’ve had with using ‘game-based’ design principles in e-Learning is the lack of reality, i.e. the game-based stuff is the used just for the sake of it and not because it is relevant to what needs to be learned. I sincerely hope you will be able to write a very useful article for everyone on the key points here.

    1. Ethan Edwards has written a white paper about this topic, which attendees at the webinar should receive soon. He definitely was interested in not doing games just for the sake of doing games. The examples did demonstrate relevant activities.

      Karl Kapp’s book Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos for Learning has some great information on this topic if you’re interested in learning more. You may also enjoy my post on academic applications of the game principles.

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