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The A, B, C's of Consumer Learning: P is for Playful Learning

Justine Ickes
Feb 4, 2015 10:45:10 AM

All work and no play make Jack (or Jill) a dull person. You could say the same for some e-learning courses. Text-heavy static pages, never-ending slideshows, and uninspired visuals don’t make for effective learning. But neither does stuffing your online course with avatars, quizzes, and other pseudo-engaging activities, all in the name of making learning “fun”. In fact, while a little bit of fun and games can go a long way in motivating learners, too much tomfoolery can turn learners off. So instead of thinking in terms of “games”, aim to incorporate playful and purposeful learning into your on-line courses with these helpful tips.


Keep Your Eye on The Prize.

Game developers and instructional designers alike know it’s all about getting people in the zone. But what’s absorbing and engaging for you can be snore-ville for the next person. So, before you set out to create the next Minecraft, spend some time thinking about your learners. Why are they taking your course? What are their learning objectives? How do they like to learn?

Think, too, about the overall flow of your course and ask yourself how a game or other playful activity will help people make cognitive connections.

  • Do your students need a mental break so they can stay fresh and focused?
  • Is it time to change the pace with a new activity?
  • Would a game help your students test their mastery of the course material?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then playful learning might be the right way to go.


Make It Real and Relevant.

Whether you’re building a fantasy world or sticking to reality, adult learners need to feel invested in the activity at hand.

As you map out your course content, look for key points when you’ll use stories, scenarios, and case studies that are directly drawn from your learners’ lives.

Here’s an example: You work in IT security and you’re developing an e-module to teach employees about safeguarding data. Can you use a real-life incident? Maybe you could invent an imaginary co-worker who doesn’t follow the rules and develop a branching scenario. Or perhaps you’d rather create a fictional incident and build your activity around that.

Whatever route you choose, remember to debrief the activity so that the learning is clear to all. Some folks can get so caught up in role-playing that they miss out on key information and important learning points.

Play Fair.

Ever been to a fun fair? You know the kind I mean. Toss three balls in the hoop and win a prize. No matter how hard you try, it’s not likely you’ll walk off with that four-foot stuffed animal.

In e-learning, too, there’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like the odds are stacked against you. So make sure your games and activities are structured in such a way that the learner can be successful.


Avoid asking questions that haven’t yet been covered in the course materials. And make sure you give learners multiple opportunities to nail the content. After all, if the material’s important enough to be part of your curriculum, it’s important enough to get right.


Take Turns.

Winner takes all might work for poker and other high-stakes games but in e-learning it’s smart to make learning collaborative, if you can.

Let’s say you’ve got a six-lesson course about online marketing for small business owners. In module one you plan to cover SEO basics. Then you’ll move onto social media in module 2.

How can you get everyone involved and learning from each other?

You could start by asking people to post samples of their own status updates. Next you might pair up learners and use the discussion area of your course for group feedback and critiques.


Reward Everyone.

With today’s online platforms you can leverage gaming elements – progress bars, badges, and other perks – to motivate and reward people.

Don’t want to game-ify your course? No worries. Giveaways, feedback, and other goodies are another great way to recognize and reward learners.

Take our social media example above. After everyone’s posted their work, you could ask your students to vote on the best examples, using criteria that the group comes up with. The winner could get a discount code for your next course.

Remember, too, that some adult learners are quite happy with old school rewards. Give them the option to print out a certificate of completion or send them a personal note of thanks for their participation.

Ready to inject purposeful and playful learning into your online school? Then put your game face on and let’s see what you come up with!

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