Top Video Game features you should be using in E-Learning

Written by RL:


This is bordering dangerously close on becoming a habit for me – I’m going to do another list style post, which I’ve claimed before I don’t like but who knows, maybe I secretly do? I’m going to take a look at several features that are prominent in video games that are transferable to the world of learning. Some of these you can look at implementing immediately whilst others will require some thought and crafting to ensure they have the desired effect. I’ll provide rough examples of how you might use some of these features in learning but this post should give you inspiration to go off and think about using these for your next project.

We all know by now that today’s video and computer games are so engaging to many people, and the  features of these games that can be exploited to improve the outcomes of education and training. Game developers instinctively implement many of these features in game play to great success (unless you’ve played some really bad games, which I’m sure we all have.)

So let’s look at what we can transfer across.

Clear learning objectives


In a good game, goals are clear; you know why you are learning something and there are opportunities to apply what you learn. Broad experiences and the ability to practice continue to challenge the player and reinforce expertise. In games and simulations, players are presented with a broad set of experiences and practice opportunities — this is usually achieved from exercising a point I’ll speak about later, scaffolding. Think about the early levels of FPS (First Person Shooter) games, you are given targets that are no more than sitting ducks – the reason for this is to give you a safe environment to practice your controls, aiming and other basic functions that are imperative to your success. You are applying your learning in a world that has colour, complexity, and challenge, rather than a set of abstract facts devoid of real world context. The “lesson” can be practiced over and over again until mastered, you’ll usually see this on tutorial sections of games where the option to restart or watch something again is present.

Monitoring of progress, diagnosis of performance and adjustment of instruction


The image above shows the new standard I’ve sure you’ve seen on the roads, this is because immediate feedback works, it strikes a chord. As soon as you see a sign flash in red with your speed on you apply the brakes, games and E-Learning should apply the same approach. Games continually monitor progress, and feedback is clear and often immediate, a good E-Learning module should do the same. Learners, as with players, want to know how successful they were and the impact of the challenge they just completed. If players struggle whilst on a game you may be presented with an option to reduce the difficulty settings if you have died a certain number of times. E-Learning can replicate this by using something like a virtual coach, if the learner has made several mistakes throughout the course it’s possible to put them back on track with some additional guidance.

Encouragement of inquiry and questions, and response with answers that are appropriate to the learner and context


Compelling games often motivate their players to seek out information on game strategies and concepts from other gamers, friends, forums, web sites, and other resources. Look into the power of your LMS, many of these come with the ability to host forums, question panels and open discussion rooms for learners.

Contextual Bridging


Games and simulations can close the gap between what is learned and its use. For example, one can learn theories of city planning through playing SimCity creating a greater understanding of the process in the real world. Take the incredibly successful (and much loved by me) game Football Manager, supply, demand, pricing, and budget come alive as you take control of a football team. You learn negotiation skills, dealing with the press, dealing with internal team affairs, all topics that I may not have had any experience with previously but help shape thinking outside of a game environment. Another example is The Tactical Language Trainer, a simulation funded by DARPA, which is designed to teach spoken communications skills in the context of how they might be used in the real world, for example, by a soldier deployed in Iraq. The learner is given a set of objectives, such as: build trust with a local person, then get directions to the person in charge, and find out how you can help them. The simulation teaches language in a cultural context; for example, making eye contact, non-verbal expression, and gestures will affect how characters in the simulation respond to the learner. Negative feedback is offered when the learner goes wrong, for example, failing to take leave politely by saying goodbye. The preference of learners is to receive their training in real-world contexts, rather than as abstract concepts or theories. Show learners what this module can help them achieve, don’t just show them the concept as this is where problems develop.



Games and simulations can offer scaffolding, providing players with cues, prompts, hints, and partial solutions to keep them progressing through the game, until they are capable of directing and controlling their own path. The same can easily apply in the world of learning, as the user progresses through a course and begins to understand the navigation, structure of questions and flow of the content we can begin to remove some of the helping hand steps used to guide them through the material up to that point.

Time on Task

videogames1 The ability to hold the attention of players is a hallmark of modern video and computer games. We all know someone who has spent way too long on Candy Crush (ever received hundreds of invites on Facebook to come and play?), Angry Birds or even something like World of Warcraft. Some gamers spend hundreds of hours playing games, they are doing so because the game is engaging but also because they are actively pushing themselves to become better players. Game designers understand how to keep an audience engaged, while delivering critical information for attaining the game’s objectives. We need to look at how we can do this in the training world.

Motivation and Strong Goal Orientation


Games also have features that are highly motivating; that is, game players continue to play games, even after failure, to get better and better at them. This is an attribute that could contribute significantly in the teaching and learning of difficult and complex material. Think about rewards in E-Learning, this the feature that badges (grrr!) contribute to, easily recognisable rewards that have social outreach.

Infinite Patience


Another feature of games and simulations that is valuable for learning is infinite patience. This is one of the most underrated and influential factors in game feature application. Teachers lose patience, and may conclude that a student “just isn’t cut out for math”. The teacher’s impatience may intimidate a learner or influence how the learner perceives himself or herself. Machines — such as computers and video games — don’t lose patience, and offer learners innumerable opportunities to “just try and try it again”.


There are a whole raft of features that video games use to promote engagement – we need to take advantage of these as they are proven to have success. I believe these points can be used in isolation from technology, the two are not interlinked. A lot of people are discouraged from using gamification methods as they believe they are wound tightly around technology. The truth is that gamification is a lot about the thought behind implementation of content rather than in high end design. Use these features and think about the ways you can apply it to your projects – we do not currently have the technology available in the world of learning to create high end games the same way developers do, but the ideas and thought processes can definitely be followed.

On a quick final note, my next post will once again be looking a game in detail and some of the key elements we can draw out of it. They’ve been very successful for me and I’ve had multiple requests to write another, so your wish is my command!

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