Category Archives: Conversations

What’s the Difference Between a Game and an Educational Game?

Back in 2009, Google Wave was the next big thing.  Dolly and Brandon used it to discuss their opinions on the difference between a game and an educational game. The distinctions are key for instructional designers to consider when deciding to design a game for a learning intervention.

Drj DOLLY: Games vs. educational games. I know, one’s fun and the other one is not! Really, though, what are the differences? I think intentionality of design is a key point, because I think that all games — indeed all experiences — are educational. Bernie deKoven talks a lot about children’s games providing an opportunity to roleplay and work out developmental issues. I know I learned a lot about what a ruthless sort my brother is when he beat me repeatedly at every board game created. So, if we accept that every game has learning opportunities, how do we make sure to include the fun?

Bwc BRANDON: Both can be fun, right? The basic difference is an educational game is designed with specific learning objectives and should be able to assess whether learning occurs.


I think assessment is key. That’s the external component that is often artificial. So many times assessment of learning within games have two basic problems:

  1. It’s completely external and separate from the game play.
  2. It’s too “safe”– Alex Trebek doesn’t give you second chances in final jeopardy. It’s FINAL!

I was thinking about that whole shift in board games with the advent of Cranium. Their whole goal was to remove the idea that there was one winner who had all the fun, but that players of multiple intelligences could play and those people could have fun. Bonding, instead of board throwing!
Bwc Hmm… Good point — Cranium could be looked at as a “learning game” although it doesn’t have traditional learning objectives, right?

Drj Well, if you look at their objectives they are met. And their learning objectives fall nicely within affective measures and an arts curriculum.

Bwc For example?

Drj Well, the goals of the game include team cooperation and communication through graphic arts and music.

Bwc “Game” is such a broad term. A game must include some element of Play, I presume. I also assume a game designed with a learning outcome in mind has structured play (as opposed to unstructured play — like when a kid plays with blocks).

Drj Garvey said that a game is institutionalized play. Look at football. It’s a game, clearly. We wouldn’t say that it’s educational, but you can learn it (and those who learn it best find it financially rewarding). Also by using it as a metaphor you can teach life lessons and/or management strategies, or you can teach math from the stats of the game.

Bwc So this leads me to think about the “game perimeter”. Most games have boundaries, right? We step into the perimeter’s “magic circle” to play the game. In the corporate workplace, the “magic circle” is the game’s play boundary the instructional designer/game designer creates. The trick for instructional designers is to craft what learning occurs while the player is in that circle… so does that mean that the assessment needs to occur inside or outside the perimeter?

Drj I think the best assessments are seamless and inside that perimeter. Examples could be performance-, point- or victory-based.

Bwc So are we saying that the differences between a game and a successful educational game can be minimal if assessment can be more embedded and genuine?

Drj Sure.

Now is the Time to Do Less of More

This week we struck up a conversation about the general state of eLearning design in the corporate world. We ruminate over our belief that companies should consider doing less of more:

Bwc BRANDON: So I thought this week we would discuss the overwhelming number of requests for “training” that come from business units and stakeholders. It seems like some people think “training solves all the problems.”

I’ve been on the inside and the outside of several corporate learning organizations over the years, and one trend that I’ve seen explode recently is a “factory mentality” designed to “templatize” training. I’ve seen these factories operate almost ’round the clock packaging “rapid eLearning” courses with little regard for formative or summative analysis, or interaction that motivates a learner to participate. It’s really a “page turner” world out there in many instances. Some of this is pure economics — many learning organizations are funded by business units. If a business unit allocates a specific amount of dollars for “training” they expect those dollars to actually be spent, regardless of the necessity or quality of the training.

Why have training if it’s not good? I’ve counseled the organizations I work for/with to do “less of more”. I firmly believe if most training organizations just stopped producing about 40% of what they are doing today — just stopped cold turkey — no one would even notice.

Drj DOLLY: I think one reason that training can seem so irrelevant is because it is so divorced from the day to day activities that the jobs actually require. So, these people who are in sales for instance, talking and corresponding with clients everyday, come to training and spend 4 days listening to someone speak at them. These week-long explorations of Powerpoint slides don’t engage the learner. They just become data dump sessions.

Bwc Yeah, I agree. I personally think sales training should be high-touch, situational, and as contextual as possible. It seems to me that there are two avenues to drive down when producing sales training: basic “transfer of information” about products, services, etc., and scenario-based/role-play simulations that place the participant in authentic situations. At Sun, we leveraged the community for the transfer of information component by providing a user-generated content platform. Sales people ate it up. They could get small chunks of product information or sales techniques from experts in the field and download it to their mobile device. We then had “Sales University” for the mandatory accredited training courses.

Drj And the thing is, if people are just going to be sitting in darkened rooms, why bother going to the expense of shipping them across the country? If it’s just memorization of information, there’s plenty of fairly easy and cheap ways to get that across in an online setting. However, both face to face and online activities can be so much more engaging and rich.

Bwc Agreed. One thing that seems to be missing is an evaluation of actual sales skills done in a formal manner. If we’re training these folks to sell, then we need to really look at each individual and evaluate their readiness to sell. It’s one thing to lecture them, have them role-play, provide feedback, and then send them on their way. Where do we assess their readiness to do their job? Is that for their manager to determine outside of the training? If so, is training’s role just to “provide the foundation”?

Drj And  evaluation doesn’t have to be a test. It can be a demonstration, a portfolio or series of smaller activities built into the curriculum.


Bwc Yes, one vendor I worked with provided role-playing scenarios in an online format using computer webcams and FlipCams. Participants would video themselves doing their pitch, and then upload it for the cohort and the facilitator to critique.

Drj In my eyes, that’s a perfectly valid evaluation, as long as the learning objectives were to improve their sales pitch, not to learn the capitals of African countries. The whole point is to have evaluation that supports your objectives and curriculum. Excellent evaluation can be painless and seamless.

This post can also be found at The Total Learner Experience