Feature: Playing to Learn

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As the technology behind simulations becomes more accessible, Steve Dineen of Fuel envisages a time when staff will engage in e-learning for enjoyment as well as education.

Learning is just starting to use far more of the techniques that make Playstation and PC gaming so enthralling – and it should go much further.

The average length of time that a learner spends on an e-learning course at one time is as little as 22 minutes, yet with Playstation players happily spend hours actively engaged in a game, the learning sector has so much scope for improving the “immersive “ qualities of our designs.

Whether or not a course is designed for learners to “dip in” or for completion, we must increasingly create courses that learners want to “play” because they find them enjoyable and find them interesting

The learning industry can and must embrace far more of the principles and techniques that making game playing so engaging.

Interaction
Up to now most e-learning companies have been using games as a break in a course, to make review quizzes and interactive testing more fun.

Recently however, courses that are games throughout have started to appear. In these the learner takes a role, making choices. For instance, a course that Fuel has developed for Channel 4 Training and Development to train its staff on the new regulatory framework that the Channel operates under now that Ofcom regulates broadcasting follows a fictional themed evening of viewing on the Channel. It combines animation and photography to portray programming, adjacent to video and sound.

Games allow the player to choose whether to be good or bad, choosing who you are, what car you drive and how you view the game. Learning courses must give the learner far more opportunity to personalise the format and role, even to the point of the individual taking a simulated role in their own department.

Engagement
Budget and bandwidth used to be the obstacles to this approach. Now, with broadband increasingly widespread in homes, this is much less of an issue, and enables games and courses with much richer graphic content to be created and assessed.

The more similar learning is to gaming, the longer learners will stay with a course and, potentially, the more they will learn. Training departments should actively push their internal teams or external suppliers to produce courses to such a high calibre.

When we have learners proactively choosing to open a course in their own time for enjoyment, then we shall have created truly engaging learning.

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