E-Learning Designers vs. Video Game Designers – nice insights

By | January 6, 2010

Andy Petroski from Harrisburg University’s Learning and Entertainment Evolution Forum pointed out a blog post from Ewan Mcintosh, reflecting on Patrick Dunn’s post about the chasm between e-learning designers and video game designers.

To summarize, Patrick Dunn expresses four differences between e-learning designers and video game designers:

It seems to me that there are at least four diametrically opposing belief sets underlying the two types of learning experience.

  • E-learning designers believe that people learn through “content”. They assume that encountering content will lead people to change their behaviour. Games designers believe that people learn through “experience”. They assume that having experiences – doing and feeling things – leads to change in behaviour.
  • E-learning designers believe we must be “nice” to our learners in case they go away. They assume that the relationship between the course and the learner is a weak one so that if there’s any significant challenge, the learner will give up. Games designers believe that we can challenge people and they’ll stick with it. Indeed, it is progressive challenges that form much of the motivation for gamers.
  • E-learning designers believe that we learn step by step (hence linearity, page-turning etc.). Game designers believe we absorb lots of things all at once (hence HUDs, complex information screens etc.).
  • E-learning designers believe that learning experiences are emotionally neutral (in spite of all that’s written about the importance of emotion in learning). Games designers always seek an “angle”, an attitude.

Patrick states these differences are irreconcilable, but I feel perhaps he is saying that for its dramatic impact: “games are an utterly different vision of learning, separated from e-learning by a huge and uncrossable chasm. Several commentators provide useful feedback to defend the argument that this chasm is, indeed, crossable (as I, of course believe).

Of course the e-learning designer perspective is somewhat stereotypical, but I completely agree that your analysis applies to the vast majority of e-learning being produced today (and yesterday, and the day before, and so on, and probably into the future as well).

I have found that when trainers are responsible for directing the output, the focus shifts from ‘can the learner perform’ to ‘the learner needs to know about such-and-such’. Even the tests created reflect this objective: mostly recall of information presented during the training. The trainers are so passionate about the material, they feel that the learners MUST get an appreciation of that depth. However, most of the time, a more casual understanding (so long as the learning is tested to perform) is perfectly acceptable.

When I consult with clients about producing training for equipment (and now product marketing), I am constantly running into the traditional mindset about simply presenting the facts. Boring, and most importantly, difficult for the learner to apply the facts in the field, without the proper context!

Rather, present materials in a challenge format, and remediate in several stages if the learner is not getting it.

To be an even-handed basher (not just e-learning designers), I should point out the video game creators and technology enthusiasts tend to swing too far the other way. I think they feel they need to inject too much entertainment or technology, which, if not designed properly instructionally, can weaken the learning. Learners do have motivation and incentives to learn the materials (interest, job promotion, increased capability, safety, etc.), so understanding those motivations can help focus how the training is produced. If you lose sight of the personal motivation factor, you will be completely off no matter how boring or how fun you create the training.

I’ve also talked with several manufacturers who want to create “games” to engage and teach customers, but they put the fun and interactive part over the learning objectives. For example, a game that features a product, but the use of that manufacturer’s product is incidental — it could be any of their competitors as well. Who remembers the ‘viral videos’ like the make-your-elven-head (I think Office Depot, or OfficeMax) but people forgot who it was produced for, or even thought it was made by a competitor (Staples)?

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