E-Learning, ELearning, Game Design, Gamification, Gaming, Instructional Design, Training Design
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Setting Goals and Objectives

It’s been a week since my last post and after having a wonderful birthday it’s time to settle down and think about my next topic. I thought long and hard about this one but decided on – Setting Goals and Objectives. For the learner these are massive and it’s an even bigger ‘thing’ for your client or SME. The goals and objectives are seen as the crux of the learning experience, so how do we tailor those goals and objectives to sit better within a gamified environment? Sit tight, this is going to be a good one.

Games are usually structured so that there are layers of goals for the player. Essentially we can (in a rather simplistic way) break games down into the following goals; the long-term goal of completing the game, the medium-term goal of completing the levels in the game, and the short-term goal of completing the missions in the levels. The requirements of each goal “layer” in a game get increasingly harder as you move from short-term to long-term goals and some games cleverly mix in decisions that cause you to sacrifice your short-term goals in preference of the long-term goal. The Walking Dead video game does this brilliantly if you want a real example; it challenges short-term & long-term goals by throwing you into decision-making that affects the fabric of the game. The final challenge in traditional games (usually referred to as “boss battles”) will always be harder than the short-term missions. This allows players in games to learn and practice skills, prior to having to demonstrate mastery of those skills in the final showdown. Similarly, when designing eLearning material to minimise cognitive fatigue, we need to break up our content into short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. For instance, before completing a course learners must complete several modules within that course. To complete a module, several topics must be completed. In order to complete a topic, several objectives must be finished. And finally, each objective requires several goals to be completed. Structuring your eLearning this way, allows users to learn new skills incrementally, and then practice those skills before demonstrating mastery of those skills in assessment exercises. Sound familiar so far?

There are several ways to present goals and objectives but here are a few:

Linear Flow of Goals

With the exception of casual games, most modern games follow a nonlinear progression. Casual games, such as Angry Birds or Plants vs. Zombies (PvZ) are typically distinguished by simple rules and a lack of required commitment. Nonlinear progression gives the player choices in how they proceed through the game. In many cases, these games are setup in what’s called a “hub” system. The reason for this name is because if you imagine a wagon wheel, the centre, or hub represents the area where all other areas are accessed. In some cases, the areas represented on the rim of the wheel can be used to access other adjacent areas. In some games, if players progress from area to area around the “rim” of the wheel, rather than returning to the “hub” between areas, the experience can actually feel rather linear. Casual games take great advantage of the system as it produces easily definable outcomes from the level experience. You complete a level, you get your stars or points and return to the central hub, take stock of your achievement and quickly move to the next section.

Nonlinear Goal Progression

Giving your learner choices by designing nonlinear eLearning can help engage your user, think about the decision making we’ve discussed in previous posts and especially in games produced by Telltale. The addition of narrative is a lot easier if you are displaying your goals and objectives in a non-linear fashion.

Flow Channel

Essentially, as the challenge of an experience rises, the skill of the participant must also grow in direct proportion. If a user’s skill exceeds the challenge of the experience, they will become bored. And, if the challenge exceeds the participant’s skill, they will suffer anxiety. The experience described above needs to be handled carefully and learners should be given an opportunity to demonstrate and master the skill of that experience, before given a completely new challenge to conquer. Remember this when you are shaping the content, you do not need to let your user fly through easy chunks of text, this creates the bored and uninterested look seen on so many faces when completing courses. Think about how you can manage the learner’s flow through the content, think about the difficulty of each section and create a fluctuating flow throughout your course.

Flow Channel for Games

Generally in games, players are given goals and objectives that get increasingly more difficult as they approach a boss battle (*cough cough* “a test”), which occur at the end of levels (similar to modules or sections in eLearning). The challenge of the boss battle is always higher than any of the challenges that preceded it. After a boss battle, the challenge of the goals and objectives that the player is given don’t ramp up, rather the player is given the opportunity to master their skills before the challenge ramps again leading to the next boss battle. This keeps the player in the flow channel, thus engaging them in the experience. The flow channel for eLearning does not need to change in my opinion; the only thing that could potentially cause a change is a continuation of the topic area after a test or assessment.

As instructional designers it’s incredibly important to think about the way you can begin to use these game-like thoughts in your eLearning. I don’t even think this requires a course to be gamified, we are talking about content delivery and ensuring that clever spacing and gradients can be used for maximum engagement and results. Until next time everyone!

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