Engaging Learning: Designing e-Learning Simulation Games

Engaging Learning: Designing e-Learning Simulation Games

by Clark N. Quinn


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Learning is at its best when it is goal-oriented, contextual, interesting, challenging, and interactive. These same winning characteristics also define the best computer games, which suggests that the most effective learning experiences are also engaging. Learning can and should be hard fun! The challenge is to get in touch with what it takes to design learning experiences that will excite your audience. Engaging Learning offers a much-needed guide for training professionals who want to create learning programs that are both effective and engaging. Clark N. Quinn Learning, a system designer, presents a unique framework for systematically aligning the key elements of learning and engagement with a proven design process for e-learning games. This nuts-and-bolts guide, which is both research-based and grounded in experience, offers the tools needed to transform learning experiences from humdrum to fun.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781119073246
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 05/13/2005
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 10.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Clark N. Quinn has designed and developed innovative solutions for business, education, not-for-profit organizations, and government. He offers knowledge systems and learning interaction design through Quinnovation.

Read an Excerpt

Engaging Learning

By Clark N. Quinn

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-7522-2

Chapter One

Games? Really?

IN 1982, John Carroll noticed people playing what was probably the first computer adventure game, "Colossal Cave." He observed then what we see now, people hunched over a computer spending hours figuring out how to get further in the game. He compared that observation to people who were giving up on something considerably more valuable to them, learning to use a word processor.

At that time, I had a job creating educational computer games for the Apple II and other, similar, machines. It was my first job out of college, and I'd already been bitten by the computers-and-learning bug badly enough that I'd designed my own major in it (back then, they didn't have such degrees). And, as a professional obligation mind you, I was playing computer games, including the "Colossal Cave" adventure. I was captured by the possibility of embedding important decisions in adventure games and creating learning environments.

And that is really what this book is about, the results of a twenty-plus-year journey from that point, driven by a belief that learning can be fun. My understanding has been refined through research and trial-by-fire, and also buttressed with evidence. I heard the phrase "hard fun," and realized that is what I mean. It's fun, in the sense that you're engaged, there is a story that you care about, and you have the power to act; it's hard in that it's not trivial-thereis sufficient challenge to keep you on your toes. And I most emphatically do not want you to infer that I mean the types of games where we put drill and kill, er, drill and practice, into game-based window dressing. I mean something more profound, more important, and more useful. But that is all to come.

To start, my plea is for you to stop doing e-learning the old way. That is, rewriting PowerPoint files and PDFs into online text (whether "gussied up" with graphics, photos, videos, or not) and multiple-choice knowledge tests (whether jazzed up with drag-and-drop or not). Or putting narrated slide presentations up on the Web. Yes, you can do that, and sometimes you have to (because of cost or time pressures). But stop first, and consider the alternatives. Understand that making things interesting can make them more effective, if you know how (and can interfere with learning if you don't), and that there are low roads that give you a lot of benefit for low investment as well as the high road. Then you can make an informed choice.

We are not, cannot be, about designing content. A fundamental perspective I want you to take away is that we are designing experiences. If nothing else, start thinking not about creating content but about designing learner environments and architecting experiences. It has become clear to me that this is a fundamental point. You have to start thinking about putting the learners into a context where they have to make decisions, understand why those decisions are important, want to make those decisions, and know that there are consequences of those decisions.

If you don't, you're likely to be dooming your audience to ineffective and, really, user-abusive learning. You don't have to make boring e-learning. Yet that is what I see, reliably and repeatedly. And it's not just me, the evidence is pretty consistent: when it comes to online learning, content people are staying away in droves. That has been the message from the analysts, the users, and the marketplace.

Of course, we'd like to develop richly engaging games that address key learning outcomes and are wildly fun, but even if we had the budget, would we know how? Or can we develop engaging learning on the average shoestring budget? I'll argue yes, absolutely, to both (and there are ways to boost that budget).

It is not because the content developers are not trying; it is because the elements of engagement are not understood. And it's not just a matter of putting entertainment and education folks in a room and locking the door. You have to understand the elements of both and find the alignment.

Let me put a stake in the ground here. It is hard to do good education. That is why people spend years learning how to do it. Even then, not all do more than follow the prescriptions and keep a finger on the pulse of the industry to improve their practice. It is also hard to do good entertainment. For every movie in Hollywood that is a hit, there are four or five that don't succeed. The same is true in the game industry (though I understand the ratios are even worse). It is doubly hard to do both together. Coordinating the elements requires a balancing act between the two, which can be well nigh impossible if you don't know how they work together (many assume that education and engagement are irreconcilable). Yet it is more than doubly worthwhile.

If you look at the elements that lead to learning, and put them in correspondence with the elements that lead to engagement, you'll see that they can be aligned and become mutually synergistic. By using that framework as guidance, you can systematically design learning that is both more effective and engaging. That is the thesis of this book.

Learning can, and should, be hard fun.

Engaging Experiences

At its best, learning is a wildly enjoyable experience. There are joyous discoveries, satisfied completions, and sudden recognitions. Think of children in that magic time of childhood before school undermines their intrinsic curiosity. All of us have interests about which we learn for no other reward than our own personal satisfaction. Whether it is a team sport such as baseball or an individual activity like fishing, a hobby such as collecting or crafts, or a personal pursuit such as philosophy or politics, in the pursuit of this informal learning we may be remarkably persistent in the face of adversity. We will learn by reading, by talking with people, perhaps by Web searching, buying books, watching specials, or joining societies.

However, this isn't what most people think of when they think of learning, particularly when it is codified as education or training. You're likely to get somewhat different responses: "I haven't time"; "Let me just read a book"; or "Not more school!" Drop-out rates for online learning have been listed as high as 80 percent. A renowned business school theorist suggests that what motivates people to take training is fear of being unable to perform, rather than any intrinsic value.

If you think that learning has to be "read this and take the test," then you haven't been paying attention to what's known about how we learn. The evidence is that learning is more effective if it attracts the attention and interest of the learner, is obviously relevant, requires action on the part of the learner, and is contextualized so that the learner understands how and when to apply it. In short, we need to address the emotional side of the learning as well as the knowledge side.

What we want is learning that engages the learner, but what we have is learning that bores or confuses the learner. Here, engagement is the word used to describe the situation when learners are captured, heart and mind, in learning-or to use formal terms, are cognitively and affectively connected to the learning experience. The best learning experiences generally available are either high-fidelity simulations or interactive sessions with skilled facilitators. However, most learning experiences involve heavy use of text, too many knowledge-test assessments, and facilitators who might care but are not so skilled as is needed.

Let me be clear, I'm not talking about game shows or gussied-up drill and practice. I am not advocating putting lipstick on the pig of fact-based learning. Instead, I am talking about the type of learning environment where you have a challenging goal set in a believable theme, and you must struggle to achieve the goal. We should be creating a learning environment where we transform our learning objectives to important behaviors, where contexts are meaningful to the learner, and where the decisions are consequential. These are the learning experiences that will make a difference, and they are what we should be shooting for.

Let me also acknowledge that I do not believe that these engaging learning experiences will (or should be expected to), by themselves, lead to learning. I advocate discussion around the experience, and connecting learner actions to the underlying concept. As yet, computers are not quite capable of supporting such dialogue. Self-directed learners may be capable of facilitating their own reflection, but it's not the way to bet (though I believe strongly that meta-learning, or learning to learn, is a key leverage point for the future). So although such environments are not sufficient, they are necessary; we need engaging experiences to motivate learners to attend to the content, give them rich practice opportunities, and provide fodder for discussion and refinement of their understanding.

Why Engagement?

Why should learning be hard fun? Surely, learners should buckle down and do what they need to do to acquire the necessary skills. Perhaps in an ideal world learners would be motivated and self-directed. We know, however, that having the pull of a challenging learning experience is still an advantage.

As long as engagement doesn't hurt, it's a positive. It doesn't have to help; as long as it doesn't interfere it can be argued to be valuable (of course, if the cost isn't too high). For instance, the Masie Center found that 70 percent of survey respondents would be very interested in a learning process that has computer games. I'll bet most folks developing learning would be thrilled to have 70 percent of their audience heading into the learning experience very interested.

People intuitively think that learning through games ought to be better, but is there any evidence? Although I won't be academic throughout (though there will be times), let me briefly review some findings. Work on cognitive science, education, anthropology, and practical experience guide the view that engagement enhances learning (when done right).

Some cognitive research either directly demonstrates or indirectly suggests the value of adding engagement to learning. Mark Lepper of Stanford University has investigated motivation in learning and in a key experiment showed that adding story enhancements to mathematics instruction improved outcomes (Lepper & Cordova, 1992). We can also use some inferences from the work of Phil Johnson-Laird of the Psychology Unit in Cambridge, who found that complex decisions are made more tractable by the addition of concrete context (e.g., Johnson-Laird, Legrenzi, & Legrenzi, 1972), which is part of the engagement process. Jean Lave at the University of California at Berkeley (1988) cites work on Brazilian street kids who can't seem to be taught mathematics, yet are actually quite good at doing calculation in the monetary tasks they perform to survive (showing motivational effects on learning).

We also see significant evidence in learning theory. The anchored instruction approach of John Bransford and his colleagues at Vanderbilt (Cognition and Technology Group, 1990) has had success in teaching a variety of core curricula such as mathematics through rich media and story. Jeroen Van Merrienboer's (1997) work on teaching complex skills suggests that we need full practice in simulated environments. Roger Schank's work on goal-based scenarios indicates the need for a goal and an exploratory environment to drive learning (Schank & Cleary, 1995). The entire focus of Howard Barrows's problem-based learning (Barrows, 1986), and case studies such as Harvard Business School's pedagogy, is to help make the learning more concrete and meaningful.

There's more pragmatic evidence as well. The military has a significant investment in rich simulations as training tools. Institutes continue to be founded to investigate games and training or learning. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has one of the newest, and the University of Southern California has one as well. A surfeit of new books also talk about the need for games or simulations as learning environments: Marc Prensky, Clark Aldrich, James Gee, the list goes on. By the way, I'll differentiate between games and simulations (and approximations thereto) later on, but briefly, simulations rely on underlying models, not prescripted branches, and games are simulations with the aesthetic tuned to create an optimal level of engagement.

Finally, as Donald Norman's book Emotional Design points out, the effect of the experience adds to our ability to think and perform. As we begin to explore how emotional experience affects our cognition, the picture increasingly shows that the aesthetics matter. If this is indeed the case, we need to exploit this opportunity to our advantage. We can design learning experiences that have positive effect and have reasons to believe that is more effective for learning.

Games for learning are not just a guilty pleasure! The evidence is clear that rich environments and story lines are more engaging and more effective. But the real reason to investigate this comes from the second half of that claim. We need more effective learning. Why?

The Learning-Doing Continuum

Our goal is not to help people learn. That's a tactic. If we said people need to learn X and then made sure that happened, we wouldn't be doing our job. In organizations, the direction is no longer to hypothesize needs but to justify the cost. And the industry has moved beyond return-on-investment arguments. It's not about showing that improvement happens as an outcome of the training. Or even counting the dollar benefits of the outcomes. Instead, the goal now for training is to target and improve the key performance indicators of the organization. This trend is currently also reflected in the metrics associated with schools, though I hope that schools will soon move to a more realistic way of assessment that targets what learners actually can do (for example, portfolios of work) and not just what they know.

No, the goal is clear: we must help people do. And that, at the end of the day, is the strongest argument for focusing on engagement in learning, because learning designed to incorporate engagement is more effective.

So why is our learning so dry? A widely cited Forrester report (Hogg, 2002) found that 75 percent of e-learners do not finish their courses. This is not because the courses are engaging learning experiences. We're following the prescriptions of instructional design, which we know is empirically based to ensure learning outcomes. What is new are the results of cognitive research (mentioned above) that suggest extensions to our learning design. This research begins to give us ideas of what we need in an environment. What hasn't been presented to date is a reliable way to get there.

A learning environment has to be designed properly to incorporate engagement that integrates with effectiveness. The problem is figuring out how to do it, particularly under real-world constraints, and seeing whether there are intermediate steps that can give us leverage when we simply can't justify the development of a full game engine. Just putting educational people and entertainment people in the same room isn't going to do it, because they don't have a shared vocabulary or any understanding of how their work aligns and synergizes. That there have been more failures than successes is not a surprise. Yet if we do understand both sides, we can make them work together to accomplish this goal of better learning experience and better learning.

Is this approach appropriate for all learning objectives? Yes and no. If your learning objectives are about knowledge-for example, does someone know x or y-you don't need to create engaging scenarios (though you can ramp up the engagement with quiz show-type trappings). However, I believe we mistakenly think that knowledge alone will solve our problem, when usually we need that knowledge to be actionable-and then we do need an engaged approach. Sometimes you will want to have lower-level knowledge automated, so that you're equipped to take on more complex decisions, but I believe in putting the decisions first to motivate learners to recognize why they need the more-rote practice. Then you can make that more enjoyable, too, but the focus has to be on the ability to do. And that requires focus on creating a learning experience.


Excerpted from Engaging Learning by Clark N. Quinn Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xv

Preface xix

Acknowledgments xxiii

Introduction 1

Audience 1

Product Description 2

Related Products 2

Explanation of Model or Theory 2

Glossary of Key Terms 3

Facilitator’s Guidelines 4

PART A Setting the Stage

Chapter 1: Games? Really? 9

Engaging Experiences 11

Why Engagement? 13

The Learning-Doing Continuum 15

The Payoff 17

Road Map 18

Chapter 2: Learning Basics 23

Instructional Design 24

Cognitive Enhancements 29

A Convergent Model 33

Summary 37

Chapter 3: Experience Basics 39

Engagement 40

Sources 43

Synthesis 48

Summary 49

PART B A Play in Three Acts

Chapter 4: Engagement-Education Synergy 53

Implications 55

Summary 64

Case Study 1: “Quest for Independence” 64

Chapter 5: Trajectory 75

Level 1: Mini-Scenarios 77

Case Study 2: “Media Speak” 80

Level 2: Linked Scenarios 87

Case Study 3: Project Management Overview, Phase 1 89

Level 3: Contingent Scenarios 95

Case Study 4: Vehicle Selling 96

Level 4: The Full Monty 102

Case Study 5: Drug Therapy Demo 107

Trade-offs 112

Chapter 6: A Design Process 113

Design Basics 114

Design Stages 116

Instructional Design 123

Engagement Perspective 125

Engaged Design: Creating Meaningful Practice 128

Engaged Design: The Process 132

Summary 153

Summary Checklist 153

PART C Set Design and Afterthoughts

Chapter 7: Pragmatics 157

Budget 157

Production 159

Prototyping Tools 160

Media 162

Writing 165

Humor 166

Cartoons and Comics 166

Culture 167

Gender 169

Age and Development 169

Evaluation 170

Multiplayer Games 171

Nonelectronic Games and Electronic Interactions 172

Technology Environments 173

Teams and Talent 175

Chapter 8: Future Issues 179

Affect 179

Learning Objects 180

Going Mobile 182

Personalization 183

Meta-Learning 184

New Input and Output Technologies 185

Design Magic 186

Chapter 9: Conclusion 187

Where We’ve Been 188

Just Do It 189

When to Do It 191

Where to Go for Further Information 192

Tally Ho! 194

Bibliography 195

Index 201

About the Author 209

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"I believe you will find that the book you are holding is equally useful for the curious learner as for the e-learning developer interested in creating something truly special. It explains beautifully and gently not only how to craft more meaningful learning experiences, but also why it is vital to do so. I look forward to seeing what you create as a result of what you learn here. You have the opportunity to truly change the world."
—From the Foreword by Marcia L. Conner

"I have often said that simulations may work in practice, but they certainly don’t work in theory. Clark Quinn has proved me wrong. He has uncovered and presented the academic underpinnings to tell us why simulations work as well as they do, both at the highest level and in the nitty-gritty of design."
—Clark Aldrich, author, Simulations and the Future of Learning and Learning by Doing

"Many so-called e-learning simulation games are neither good games nor good learning experiences.  Engaging Learning bridges the chasm between the engaging world of great games and the essential elements of effective learning experiences in clarifying ways to create truly powerful e-learning."
—Michael W. Allen, CEO, Allen Interactions Inc., and author, Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning

"Games are great motivators—sometimes you can’t tear players away from their session. How would it be if we could harness that motivation for the cause of education? In this book, Clark Quinn leads us through the necessary stages of development. He provides precisely what you need to know: systematic, logical coverage of how to create simulations and games that engage the learner and create the compelling learning experience we all dream about."
—Donald Norman, professor, Northwestern University and author, Things That Make Us Smart

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