Games can improve the learning process.

Games For Learning

One of the challenges for an instructional designer is to incorporate engaging content into a course or program. One method to engage the learner is through the use of games. This method can be a powerful way to help the learner understand certain topics or review various key points. It can also become a huge distractor and waste the learner's time within a course. Whether in the classroom or within an online course, it is important that an instructional designer understand the following concepts.

Have Purpose

When designing the content of a course, the inexperienced may identify a need for an activity within a course. Most will find a game such as jeopardy or who wants to be a millionaire and attempt to fit it in somewhere within the training. This approach often finds such activities as unproductive in the learning process. They are viewed more as a time filler rather than an activity of purpose. Here are a couple of things to consider when including an activity.

  • Identify the objectives for the activity first. Determine what concepts you want to emphasize and then attempt to either design, build, or incorporate an activity that meets your objectives.
  • Identify where it makes sense to add an activity in the course. The placement of the game within the course is just as important as determining the objectives of the activity. How it is placed in the flow of topics can increase the success of the game. Do you use the activity to introduce a topic or as means of reviewing a topic presented? These questions will help you better define why an activity is necessary and how it should be included.

Keep It Simple

Activities must be simple in order to maintain the integrity of the course. Complex activities hinder the learning process as the focus becomes more about the game rather than the concepts being presented within the activity. Keeping these interactive pieces of the content simple will help the learner to quickly understand the concepts without becoming frustrated with complex rules or requirements. Here are a couple of things to remember in order to keep these activities simple.

  • Avoid lengthy activities. These activities should only be used as means of emphasizing certain key points within the training. Therefore, the activitiy should not encompass a large amount of time within the course. Remember, participants are in the course to learn, not to play games.
  • Keep the rules to a minimum. A good rule of thumb is to limit a game to no more than 3 rules or requirements. This will help you keep the activity simple enough to manage while emphasizing key points within the course.

Include Remedial Feedback

It is important to remember that activities have a purpose which is to help the learner understand topics presented in the training. Therefore, each activity should have some form of remedial feedback to help the learner understand a wrong choice or to reinforce the right answer. Instructional designers know that true learning involves both positive and corrective influence on the learner. Applying this same principle within a game becomes even more important as it binds the concepts to some type of practical application for the learner. Knowing whether the learner made the right or wrong choice or decision is critial to the process of learning. This is the one big difference between engaging content used for learning purposes versus activities used to entertain.

Appropriate For The Audience

Like many other principles of instuctional design, knowing your audience is crucial to the success of any activity within a course. Thus, each activity incorporated into the training must apeal to the audience. For an example, an older audience may not react favorably to an action-type activity while a younger audience may experience a better learning curve with such an activity. Consider the following concepts when choosing or designing a game for training:

  • Gender and Age: Age and even gender have a tremendous impact on the type of game you choose for a course or topic. The older generation prefers simplistic activities that requires a minimal amount of multi-tasking. The older generation also appeals more to instructional type activities that require various steps or phases within an activity. The younger generation prefers fast pace activities that include a certain level of multi-tasking. However, the younger generation is less likely to respond favorably to instructional type activities but have greater success with more visual type activities. Also, gender can play a role in this process, depending on that type of game choosen or how the game is designed using colors and images.
  • Silly versus Fun: There are times when activities can be more silly than fun. When an activity appears to be too elementry, it can be considered silly and can become a distractor rather than adding value. The goal of any activity is to incorporate fun within the learning process. The danger that most instructional designers face in creating a game that has the possibility of insulting the intelligence of the audience with a silly activity. Therefore, it is critical that the activity presents a mature level of apeal that favors the intended audience.



Games are a great way to emphasize key concepts or to encourage the application of knowledge. There have been many studies to show that by including some type of game within a course that the retention is greater by the learner. Another benefit of using this type of activity within training is that it is fun. When learners experience fun in training the desire to learn more increases and the process of learning is greatly improved. However, while this concept is a powerful tool, it can have a reverse affect if not used properly. Within this article, I have tried to provide you with some insights on how to incorporate activities successfully into training. By methodically incorporating activities within the training content, I am certain that the results will achieve the objectives and expectations of any course. Remember, instructional design is more about structured common sense learning rather than practical entertainment.


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