Learning with Games and Phones
Alfred Mercer said, “What we learn with pleasure, we never forget”. Brain research tells us that when the fun stops, learning often stops too (Willis, 2007). One way of making learning fun is to make it a game. Studies show that games can be an effective mechanism to facilitate learning. With respect to education, games are defined as “simulations which provide a personally challenging task”, which can be used as either an activity or an assessment, the benefit of which is to “reawaken learning through play” (Horton, 2012).
Horton (2012) states that games are instrumental for learning when:
- The cost of failure is high;
- Learning with real systems are not practical;
- Tasks are complex and time is short, and
- The Skills taught are subtle and complex.
The use of games as a learning activity provides unique challenges and opportunities. Electronic communication is not as information rich as in-person communication, partly as a result of its asynchronous nature. Subsequently, there are considerations as to how to effectively package the information. In this regard, there is little difference between websites, online games and elearning modules; many of the design considerations are the same. Indeed, the boundaries between these are increasingly becoming blurred.
What we are looking to achieve is a seamless, engaging experience for the user/learner/player. It is incumbent on the designer to “begin with the end in mind”, as Stephen Covey tell us and examine the learning process backwards from the learner and all the way back to the problem learning is attempting to solve. When one considers learning as a form of user experience, many principles from the emerging field of User Experience Design become informative.
"User experience (UX) design is the process of creating products that provide meaningful and personally relevant experiences. This involves the careful design of both a product’s usability and the pleasure consumers will derive from using it. It is also concerned with the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability, and function" User Experience Design (n.d.). For a user to have a meaningful and valuable experience information must be:
- Useful: Your content should be original and fulfill a need
- Usable: Site must be easy to use
- Desirable: Image, identity, brand, and other design elements are used to evoke emotion and appreciation
- Findable: Content needs to be navigable and locatable onsite and offsite
- Accessible: Content needs to be accessible to people with disabilities
- Credible: Users must trust and believe what you tell them (User experience design, n.d.).
In comparison, Authors Desurvire, Caplan and Toth (2004) have posited a “heuristic” evaluation protocol for the assessment of game playability (H.E.P. - Heuristic Evaluation of Playability). This model identifies four main elements which comprise “playability”. These are:
- Game Story - includes all plot and character development;
- Mechanics - the programming that provides the structure by which units interact with the environment;
- Game Play - the set of problems and challenges a user must face to win a game, and
- Usability - addresses the interface and encompasses the elements the user utilizes to interact with the game (Desurvire, Caplan and Toth, 2004).
In reviewing these sets of principles from two divergent disciplines, one can appreciate that a valuable user experience stems from meaningful, engaging content presented in a way which augments the material without distracting from it. As Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “I am always willing to learn, I am not always willing to be taught”. Learning is an active process and motivating the learner should be a large part of the job of an educator.
As our world becomes increasingly global, it also becomes increasingly mobile. Most people walk around with a computer in their pocket - their cell phone - with more capabilities than those used by NASA for the Apollo program. There are nearly as many cell phone subscriptions as there are people on Earth and “shouting is the likely the next-most widespread communications technique” (Quartz, 2014). Given this, it only stands to reason that mobile platforms, such as smart-phones and tablets, would become yet another medium to which learners will turn for information.
The problem with these devices, a problem shared by other emerging technologies such as augmented reality, is the human interface. Screen sizes are often too small to render images for substantial use and alpha-numeric buttons too small to make typing anything much longer than a Tweet extremely cumbersome. Of course, there is always the issue of software compatibility across different devices as well.
Some basic considerations for effectively converting elearning for mobile devices include simplifying text and graphics and the use of mobile accessible documents. In addition, Instructional Designers can consider the capability of the devices and use the tools available which are specifically unique for mobile platforms.
The most obvious benefit of mobile learning is that learning can occur more often, for example, learners may access course content while waiting for appointments or traveling (provided they aren't using their hand held devices while operating equipment such as motor vehicles, of course!). Mobile learning can be particularly useful to help educate within the context where the learning needs to be applied. In this regard, outdoor activities are ripe for presenting information in this way, as Horton (2012.p. 502), Such activities might include gardening, archaeology field work or construction among others.
The task of the Instructional Designer in the world of portable communication is to see beyond the limitations of the devices and to think differently about how they can be used as a means to teach. Over the past 7 weeks, I have been exploring concepts such as these and working with modern authoring tools to develop highly interactive elearning modules. A screenshot of the project captions this article, above. Ironically, the full file was large to share here, however, this illustrates the issues designers face in developing material for presentation online. While there are challenges, the potential is limitless and this is what it means to be a professional instructional designer.
Willis, J. (2007). The neuroscience of joyful education. Educational Leadership. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/4141/the-neuroscience-joyful-education-judy-willis-md.pdf
User Experience Basics (n.d.). [web log comment]. Retrieved from: https://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/user-experience.html
Horton, W. (2012). E-Learning by Design
Desurvire, H., Caplan, M. and Toth, J. (2004). Using Heuristics to Evaluate the Playability of Games. Retrieved from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.83.2695&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Quartz (2014, February 25). More people around the world have cell phones than ever had land-lines. [web log comment]. Retrieved from: https://qz.com/179897/more-people-around-the-world-have-cell-phones-than-ever-had-land-lines/