Questions and Answers About Game-based Learning

Written by Emily Kueker

Q: Why does Vivayic use the game-based approach?

SD: The National Pork Board asked us to partner with them on reimagining how youth could be reached with their Youth Pork Quality Assurance Plus (Youth PQA) program. It is the food safety, antibiotic use, and animal well-being awareness and education program for youth pork producers ages 8 to 19. Youth PQA had been delivered as an instructor-led session with a slide deck and suggestions for a few activities. That model still works, but they also wanted to give youth a chance to engage with the program online to increase the reach and ease of access for youth and families. The program, when delivered as a workshop, can take up to two hours. We couldn’t reduce the learning objectives, but we knew that a traditional e-learning course wasn’t feasible — few adults would have that kind of attention span, let alone a child. What can hold the attention of a 12 year old for 2 hours? Games. We took the idea to Pork Board, they signed off, and we started building. The results are pretty cool.

CW: It’s innovative, it’s new, and it’s what youth like to do! The National Pork Board was looking for a way for youth to get certified in the Youth PQA in an online setting rather than face-to-face. Using a game-based approach was a great way to reinforce what youth learned from reading the Youth PQA manual.

Q: What are the benefits of this approach?

CW: This is a particularly effective learning tool for youth. Any time we can incorporate technology into learning, youth are going be excited about it! Additionally, a game-based approach can serve as a stand-alone learning tool, an application piece, a review, or an individual assessment.

SD: Games have built-in mechanisms to hold our attention: challenge, chance, achievement, instant feedback, and novelty. They work especially well for youth who are more accustomed to learning through games. A game-based approach worked well for this program because there are 10 areas, and each area has a variety of content and skills. That’s a lot of information — breaking it up into a series of different games helped create more engaging and appropriate learning experiences for each part of the program. And the great thing about games is that you can design them in a way to let users play them over and over again until they win. That was perfect for this situation as some concepts and skills can be difficult for the younger learners, and we wanted to make sure they knew their stuff before moving on. Kids voluntarily reviewing their understanding — that’s good stuff.

Q: What considerations did you have to take into account?

SD: Using games isn’t without its challenges. First, designing game experiences takes considerably more creativity and effort than typical learning programs. You have to ensure that the level of challenge is appropriate for the learner, that the game play is compelling and fun, that the game play and scoring function properly, and a whole host of other things. Another consideration is that it’s much easier to use games to help review and apply knowledge and skills than it is to help learners acquire new knowledge and skills. Because of the scope of content in this program, we still relied on learners reading through the handbook to acquire understanding. They could try the games before reading, and we hope they did so that it would help them identify the critical information to look for in the handbook material.

A third consideration is the technology platforms your learners will use to access the games; screen size, type of device, operating system, and internet connectivity are important drivers in planning game design. Finally, there is the “So what?” issue — “So what?” happens when a user achieves a perfect score or reaches the top level. We chose to not use scores and achievements as external motivators for Youth PQA. It’s like the show, “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” where the points don’t really matter. For some users that may be frustrating, but if you don’t have a clear objective in using scores for other purposes, we think it’s best to keep the games fun and low-stakes.

CW: In this particular case, we had to take three age levels into consideration. We did end up creating two modules, one for the youngest level and the other for the upper levels. We spent a considerable amount of time designing the game play, considering the flow of the module as a whole, scoring, and really putting ourselves in the shoes of the users. We wanted to create something a young person would want to sit down and play, while also learning in order to pass the certification test.

“Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.”

—Chinese Proverb

Q: How have users responded to it?

CW: We’ve heard very positive feedback from the individual in charge of the certification and training at the National Pork Board.

SD: After the initial build of all of the Youth PQA games, we tested them with the target audience of 8- to 19-year-old youth. We received great feedback on what was fun, what was confusing, and what just wouldn’t work. That helped us refine ideas and build better versions. Since the client has released it, we’ve heard they’ve had a really positive response. Many educators are using the games as supplemental activities to add engagement in their instructor-led sessions. That’s the great thing about good design — it’s flexible to meet the needs of people in the real world. It’s nice when projects turn out like you hope.

Q: How did you find out about this approach?

SD: We invest a lot of time and money getting our team out to a variety of conferences, shows, and forums where new ideas and approaches are talked about. We saw examples of game-based e-learning some time ago. We like to be early adopters and bring our clients insight into what’s new, different, or creative, but we also balance that with knowing there’s evidence that something works. That’s what clients should expect from a group like us — to bring them industry-leading expertise and insights so they don’t have to invest in that level of research themselves. The Pork Board, for example, doesn’t need staff to attend the Learning Solutions conference every year, for example, but they should expect that we do and will bring back new ideas and approaches to help them accomplish their organizational objectives.

CW: We learned in the early stages of this project that the National Pork Board was looking for something like this — a game-like tool that youth could complete in order to receive their certification online.

Q: What is the importance of using this and other learning approaches to meet your client’s goals?

CW: First and foremost, we at Vivayic pride ourselves on really listening to the client and creating a personalized approached to fit their specific needs. The work we’ve done for the Youth PQA project will serve as a great model for other projects, for both youth and adult learners. The team members in charge of developing the actual game play did a phenomenal job and learned so much about Storyline, a type of e-learning software, and its capacity for game-based solutions.

SD: It’s important for people to remember that game-based learning isn’t a silver bullet solution. We think it can have really useful application, but it can also be misused and overused. It’s a great strategy to have in the toolbox, but like all tools, craftsmanship is required to know when and how to use them.

Emily Kueker
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