The Virtual Reality Operating Room

The future of simulation in medical instruction

By Maxwell Delamere-Sanders



Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when you think of simulations is the flight simulator, maybe something like the Link Trainer (pictured in Figure 1). Flight training is well suited to simulation, as it is potentially dangerous and involves expensive hardware. The medical profession shares – and surpasses – these risks, making it fertile ground for simulation-based education. From antiquity, medical simulation used clay, stone or wood mannequins to allow students to practice medical procedures safely, as described by Meller.

The Link Trainer, the first flight simulator, built in 1929.
Figure 1: The Link Trainer, the first flight simulator, built in 1929.

Modern medical simulation still uses mannequins (though stone and clay have been replaced by silicone and circuitry) as well as virtual simulations. Most medical education institutions employ some form of both of these modalities of simulation as described by May. Multiple studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of simulation for medical education, such as those conducted by Underwood and McKinney. Fidelity refers to how closely a simulation resembles the real-world experience it aims to simulate. New materials and technology for mannequins have dramatically increased their fidelity in the last thirty years. Virtual reality is experiencing a similar boom in recent years as computer horsepower and rendering techniques come closer to matching the real operating room (OR).

To VR or not to VR

Developing training for medical professionals today means choosing an approach out of a large and varied toolbox. Virtual Reality (VR) is one of these tools and its appeal is only growing. VR is a cost-effective and versatile alternative to expensive mannequins or specialized trainers. The main barrier to VR replacing other simulation methods has long been fidelity, as described by Satava. However, fidelity seems to have a limited effect on learning outcomes as found by Yang. Isaranuwatchai evaluated the cost effectiveness of a series of training methodologies: VR, high fidelity mannequin and progressive (VR and mannequin). They found that, depending on the funds available for investment in training programs, VR provides good return on investment in terms of learning outcomes.

Just as medical training mannequins experienced a significant leap in fidelity in the 1990s with the improvement of materials available and computer hardware and software for information gathering and feedback as described by Meller and Cooper, VR is in the nascent stages of a similar revolution. Stronger computer hardware and rendering techniques, as well as commercially available, affordable VR hardware herald a new age for VR as described by Rothman. The technology exists for high-fidelity medical training simulations, but the investment does not. Even the most recent simulations lag behind video games for entertainment in fidelity by at least a decade.

A VR Simulation for Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) Training

A screenshot of Vankipuram and colleagues’ cardiac life support simulation (left) and an input device designed to simulate compressions (right).
Figure 2: A screenshot of Vankipuram and colleagues’ cardiac life support simulation (left) and an input device designed to simulate compressions (right).

Vankipuram and colleagues have taken a step toward closing this gap. They have developed a VR simulation for cardiac life support training using a modern game engine (UnrealEngine), VR headsets and customized input devices (see figure 2). Networking allows students to work together, each filling a role on the trauma team. A customized UI provides real-time feedback on performance, while detailed data is gathered for evaluation and debriefing by an instructor. One of the biggest advantages of VR simulations over their practical counterparts is their ability to record large amounts of detailed information. Traditional mannequin simulations rely on the instructor to observe and provide feedback on each team member’s individual performance, while VR simulations can record every detail of every action of each team member.

Remote Facilitation

Another benefit of VR simulations for medical training is the potential for remote facilitation. Availability of specialized facilitators can be a major impediment to effective medical instruction. Ohta and colleagues compared a remotely facilitated, VR simulation-based pediatric resuscitation training module for medical students with the same program facilitated locally. They found no significant difference in learning outcomes for the remote facilitator versus the local one. Remote facilitation has the potential to greatly improve access to high-quality instructors in specialized fields across institutions at lower cost and with greater flexibility than requiring an in-person facilitator.

Next Steps

This work is a step in the right direction, but greater investment in the development of high-fidelity VR simulations for medical training is needed. The role of fidelity in the effectiveness of medical simulations is disputed. Yang and colleagues found no correlation between fidelity and effectiveness, while Isaranuwatchai and colleagues found that high-fidelity mannequins provide some improvement to learning outcomes over low-fidelity VR simulations. As VR simulations improve, more research is required to compare their effectiveness with more traditional methods of instruction, especially high-fidelity mannequins.

Remote facilitation has long been touted as the future of education. With the advent of reliable, fast internet connections and high-fidelity VR and the sense of presence it provides, remote facilitation is becoming more feasible. The future of medical education is virtual.


Christensen, M., Tan, S., Rieger, K., Dieckmann, P., Oestergaard, D., & Watterson, L. (2013). A       Comparison of the Relative Effectiveness of Remotely and Locally Facilitated Simulation-Based          Training of Medical Emergencies by Postgraduate Healthcare Teams. Simulation in Healthcare:            The Journal of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, 8(6), 526.

Cooper, J. B., & Taqueti, V. R. (2008). A brief history of the development of mannequin simulators for       clinical education and training. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 84(997), 563-570.

Underwood, L., Ginkel, C. V., Lee, D., Wong, M., Dizaiy, S., Fry-Bowers, E., Nguyen, H. (2008). 153:              Effectiveness of Medical Simulation on Knowledge in Septic Shock Management During Pre-    Clinical Medical Training. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 51(4), 517.

Dotson, M. P., Gustafson, M. L., Tager, A., & Peterson, L. M. (2018). Air Medical Simulation Training: A      Retrospective Review of Cost and Effectiveness. Air Medical Journal, 37(2), 131-137.

Fletcher, J. D., & Wind, A. P. (2013). Cost Considerations in Using Simulations for Medical               Training. Military Medicine, 178(10S), 37-46.

Isaranuwatchai, W., Brydges, R., Carnahan, H., Backstein, D., & Dubrowski, A. (2013). Comparing the         cost-effectiveness of simulation modalities: A case study of peripheral intravenous     catheterization training. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 19(2), 219-232.

Lin, W., & Song, Y. (2017). Effectiveness of different numbers of simulation training models on medical    students’ cervical examination performance. International Journal of Gynecology &              Obstetrics, 141(2), 255-260.

Mckinney, J., Cook, D. A., Wood, D., & Hatala, R. (2012). Simulation-Based Training for Cardiac     Auscultation Skills: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of General Internal              Medicine,28(2), 283-291.

Meller, G. (1997). A typology of simulators for medical education. J Digit Imaging, 10(3), 194-196.

Ohta, K., Kurosawa, H., Shiima, Y., Ikeyama, T., Scott, J., Hayes, S., Nishisaki, A. (2017). The Effectiveness of Remote Facilitation in Simulation-Based Pediatric Resuscitation Training for Medical          Students. Pediatric Emergency Care, 33(8), 564-569.

Rothman, J. (2018, April 2). Are We Already Living in Virtual Reality? The New Yorker.

Satava, R. (2013). Keynote speaker: Virtual reality: Current uses in medical simulation and future                opportunities & medical technologies that VR can exploit in education and training. 2013 IEEE Virtual Reality (VR).

Vankipuram, A., Khanal, P., Ashby, A., Vankipuram, M., Gupta, A., Drummgurnee, D., Smith, M. (2014).    Design and Development of a Virtual Reality Simulator for Advanced Cardiac Life Support      Training. IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics, 18(4), 1478-1484.

Yang, C., Wang, H., Chou, E. H., & Ma, M. H. (2012). Fidelity does not necessarily result in effectiveness –                A randomized controlled study in a simulation-based resuscitation training for medical        students. Resuscitation, 83.

Maxwell Delamere-Sanders is a student in the Seneca Technical Communication Certificate Program at Seneca College. He completed a degree in English and Psychology at the University of Toronto in 2016, and is excited to bring his passion for language and the human mind to bear on the field of technical communication.

Evaluating Simulations in Medical Education

By: Serena Zaccagnini

Simulations in medical training are a realistic cross-disciplinary method of training and feedback. In simulation-based learning learners can repeatedly practice and review tasks in lifelike circumstances using physical or virtual reality models to identify and understand the factors that affect systems and the problems that can arise. Simulation-based medical education (SMBE) allows students the chance to refine their skills in a safe and controlled environment where they can increase their skills and reduce their margins of error. SMBE creates a safe and controlled environment that exposes trainees to dangerous conditions.

The State of Medical Education

Research by Jones, Passos-Neto and Braghiroli indicates that, despite advances in technology, teaching strategies and learning theories, it is not uncommon for medical students to be taught with decades-old syllabi. The current model of medical training has been in use for at least a hundred years, but a developing movement for patient safety has forced institutes to revise the medical education system.

Several external factors are driving the movement for medical education reform:

  • Increased awareness of information overload and stress on medical students.
  • Recognition of the need for students to be effective junior doctors after undergraduate studies, not during residency; students are often ill-prepared for their roles.
  • The need for continuing education for higher specialist training, coupled with the drive to revalidate.
  • New interest in outcomes-based education, focusing on the student’s ability to perform what they have learned, rather than the typical goal-based education, which focuses on student satisfaction.

Some institutions have already adopted simulations for use in examinations. For example, Scalese, Obeso and Issenberg indicate that the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Canada uses simulations with computers and mannequins alongside patient participants in their Internal Medicine certification exams.

Simulations, Past and Present

Any person attempting to determine the origins of simulation-based education would find themselves mired in information dating back millennia. While the first dedicated use of simulations in medical training took place in the USA in the 1960s, use of simulations in medical training can be found across cultures and ancient civilizations. In the past, these simulations used active participants or mannequins as the test subject. Over the last several decades, the educational tools shifted from the real-world to the virtual.

A Shift toward the Virtual

Medical education is one of many disciplines experiencing a significant increase in the use of simulation technology for teaching and assessment. From the military and aviation industries training pilots on flight simulators to construction workers training on virtual cranes, simulation-based education has seen a boom in trust and satisfaction.

The shift to virtual education for medicine follows the trends of society. Many medical students and practitioners have adapted their methods to better fit the 21st century:

  • Many medical students view lectures online or listen via podcasts.
  • Residents consult information stored in Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to make patient management more efficient.
  • Practitioners can receive continuing education credits by attending teleconferences.

Much of the movement toward simulations occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, when sophisticated computers and software capable of reproducing and mimicking physiologic responses and feedback were produced. The first wave of simulated patients combined a Macintosh computer with a mannequin and waveform generator to mimic a patient during anaesthesia. Specialties such as anesthesiology, critical care and emergency medicine have long been at the forefront of the push toward SMBE.

Technological innovations have paved the way for a wide range of simulators that can facilitate and supplement learning in numerous medical disciplines.

The Limits of SMBE

Primary concerns regarding simulation use in medicine involve cost, efficiency and simulation quality.

  • Cost: The best medical simulations are available at considerable costs. Machines require maintenance and updating, which continually adds to the initial purchase price.
  • Efficiency: Incorporating time into current medical curriculums is problematic and would require the medical curriculum to be updated. Dedicated and exclusive resources are seldom available. For simulations, an instructor-to-learner ratio of 1:3 or 1:4 is ideal, where the current ratio is between 1:10 and 1:15.
  • Simulation Quality: Human systems are complicated and varied, thus models and instruments can never completely mimic each iteration. Poorly designed simulations can inhibit learning, such as causing students to neglect checking for physical signs because they are absent in the simulation. Participants will naturally approach simulations differently than they would real life. Students will either be hypervigilant or negligent.

Long-term studies must be conducted to analyse the effects of SMBE on patient care and general effectiveness as a teaching tool. It is only after the impact of SMBE has been evaluated that simulations can begin to replace all outdated teaching materials.

Where To, Next?

The current model of medical education has changed little over the last hundred years, but an increase in demand for experienced doctors has pushed educational institutions to reconsider the system. Simulation on its own cannot guarantee learning, but it is a game-changer.

Future studies should be conducted regarding the effects of SMBE on improving patient outcome. Without strong evidence, a field as costly and vital as medical education cannot be altered with any severity. At best, simulations will be a periphery in medical education and training. The potential growth for SMBE alongside technological advances is unmeasurable and may be the key to training medical professionals in the future. However, institutions and practitioners must analyse the current education system and the validity of SMBE research to determine if the jump can be made now or later.

The shift toward heavy technology use is unavoidable; medical professionals, as other professions, have started to rely on computer- and cloud-based materials to improve their patient care. What remains to be seen is if they will fully accept this paradigm shift and trust simulations to train the next generation of doctors.


Bradley, Paul. "The History of Simulation in Medical Education and Possible Future Directions." Medical Education 40, no. 3 (March 2006): 254-62. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2929.2006.02394.x.

James, John T. "A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care." Journal of Patient Safety 9, no. 3 (September 2013): 122-28. doi:10.1097/PTS.0b013e3182948a69.

Jones, Felipe, Carlos Eduardo Passos-Neto, and Oddone Freitas Melro Braghiroli. "Simulation in Medical Education: Brief History and Methodology." Principles and Practice of Clinical Research 1, no. 2 (July/August 2015): 56-63.

Krishnan, Divya G., Anukesh Vasu Keloth, and Shaikh Ubedulla. "Pros and Cons of Simulation in Medical Education: A Review." International Journal of Medical and Health Research 3, no. 6 (June 2017): 84-87.

Scalese, Ross J., Vivian T. Obeso, and S. Barry Issenberg. "Simulation Technology for Skills Training and Competency Assessment in Medical Education." Journal of General Internal Medicine 23, no. Suppl 1 (January 2008): 46-49. doi: 10.1007/s11606-007-0283-4.

Serena Zaccagnini is a student at Seneca College in Toronto, Ontario studying Technical Communication. She is looking forward to a career in the Technical Communication field. I have a Specialized Honours Bachelor of Arts in English and Professional Writing with emphasis on Digital and Institutional Communication from York University. In my spare time, I enjoy reading and baking.

Engaging Your Audience with Effective Instructional Methods

By Minyu Anna Philip

A classroom or an office is a blend of personalities. Just as educators develop preferences for methods to teach, learners develop preferences for a specific way of learning. As we set out to instruct, it is our responsibility to build up methodologies to effectively communicate to our unique audience. Every instructional method comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. The type of learner and the level of knowledge they possess are two essential considerations when designing any instructional plan. The physical settings of the teaching space and the materials available also play an important role in the selection of an instructional method. A novice would have to be taught from scratch whereas what a subject matter expert probably needs to learn is probably a new perspective of approaching a problem. Any instructional method requires a level of preparation by the educator and sometimes, from the learners. However, one scenario or subject could be taught in several different ways and here you shall see different types of effective instructional methods.

Role Playing

In role playing, learners take the role of another person to understand what it is like to be in their shoes.

The preparations required for this activity are that the educator defines the problem situation and provides clear instructions, topics and roles.

This activity helps to introduce the scenario dramatically. It enables the learners to assume the roles of others and thus appreciate another point of view. It is also an excellent method of practicing their skills in a practical environment and helps them to explore real-time solutions for problems.

The activity could be time-consuming to set up and execute and it could make a few of the learners self-conscious.


Games introduce active participation to learners in a team-building activity.

The groundwork of game-building activities includes choosing relevant games that can be reasonably expected to achieve the learning objectives. The educator must introduce the game, provide clear, thorough directions and make the objectives known beforehand. It is important that the atmosphere is friendly and pinpointing of losers is avoided so that the confidence of the participants is not shaken. The educator must be able to handle all kinds of situations and not take sides or be partial.

The advantages of this activity are that learners are usually challenged by and interested in games. It brings about a fun and stimulating experience and improves team-building activities.

The disadvantages of having games as an activity are that it could be demotivating for non-competitive learners. It could also instill a feeling of shortage of skill as compared to the more competitive and talented learners. If the focus is on who wins the game rather than the activity itself, it might discourage creativity.

Group discussion

The class is divided into groups and a topic is given to each group to be discussed.

This activity requires the educator to decide on a purpose for each group. It is also necessary to invigilate the group so that the learners do not deviate from the topic in discussion.

The advantage of this activity is that it allows an active participation from everyone in the group. The learners might feel more comfortable sharing in a smaller group as opposed to a larger group.

The disadvantage in this activity is that a few students might dominate and it might not be as effective when there are a lot of students in one group.


Learners form two groups take different sides of a topic and debate on the pros and cons on a specific topic.

The preparation required for this activity is to come up with a topic that will not create a scene that the educator might not be able to moderate.

The advantages of this activity are similar to having a group discussion. This activity also includes a smaller group and enables active participation. The learners feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts regarding a subject knowing that there are others to support it. This, in turn, encourages team spirit.

The disadvantage of having a debate is that there could be an argument that gets out of hand.


Learners prepare questionnaires, online or on paper, and collect information. The educator could also prepare a questionnaire and make the learners fill it out, then form a discussion based on the output.

This activity requires careful thought about the various topics on which a survey could be conducted. It also demands research by the educators to prepare handouts for the students.

The advantages include the possible use of social media to get survey input, encouragement of reflective observation, analysis of direct feedback from the audience and active experimentation.

A disadvantage is that this activity is time-consuming. The learners might be required to go to a variety of audiences to obtain an accurate analysis which can be physically taxing as well.

Service learning

Learners volunteer to provide meaningful help to the community thereby learning from practical experiences.

The preparation for this activity is for the learners to find an area of genuine interest. They might have to travel, ask difficult questions and help those in need. This might require prior counseling before setting out on their course of activity.

The advantages of this activity are getting a first-hand experience of being in the field of work and a sense of giving back to society. It also encourages reflective observation and active interaction with the audience.

The disadvantage is that this could be time-consuming and could cause mental and physical challenges to the learner.


Learners come from different backgrounds, with varying capabilities and areas of interests. It might be difficult to find a method that suits all the learners in an equal way. Having a healthy assortment of instructions and teaching methodologies ensure that all the learners are benefitted.


The Use of Media in E-Learning

By: Julian Hoh-Il Synn

The use of media has been a great benefit to education. There are many ways that media has impacted our learning such as message boards, social media, and various software. This article will explain the use of various forms of media in e-learning. Additionally, the article will discuss which form is the most useful and efficient, and which ones are less so.

Message Boards

There are many resources online that very intuitive and easy to use. For example, Internet message boards can be helpful. These include websites like Stack Overflow ( which helps programmers with their code if something isn’t working properly. There are also various forums around the Internet that can be very helpful. People can help each other out by posting a problem, and multiple people can post solutions. This could be even more helpful than sending e-mails. Not only can the sender and receiver view the message, but so can other viewers on the message board and the rest of the Internet. This is more efficient because anyone can view the problem, and if the solution is posted, then there will be fewer people asking the same thing. People can simply search it and the answers will show up.

The Blackboard Tool

Blackboard ( is a more formal version of an Internet message board that is used in many schools today. It is used for sending announcements, uploading documents, writing journals, and keeping up with course content. Students can even post on the discussion board, which can be helpful. However, most students never post on the discussion boards unless the teacher makes it mandatory for a grade. They mostly use it for submitting assignments, completing quizzes, and checking announcements, which may already appear as an e-mail anyway. In this regard, it may be better for a student to look up their solutions online, through Stack Overflow or otherwise. Perhaps e-learning modules could be implemented into Blackboard in the future, such as how Adobe Captivate helps people learn in a more visual way. This could give more of an incentive for students and help them learn better. However, students can use other means to get help. The answer is social media, our next topic.

Social Media

Social media can potentially provide a helpful form of learning. People can form groups on Facebook to ask questions about what they missed or concepts they didn’t understand. A classmate can then answer their questions. They can also upload files to encourage further discussion. YouTube can be helpful because of videos that people can post online. For example, if one needs help in Adobe FrameMaker, they can go online to check useful videos so they can see a demonstration. Anyone can search for help on any subject. It could be troubleshooting issues, advice on installation, tips on using different software, and so on.

LinkedIn can be helpful since people in high positions in important companies, recruiters, or employees in a field of interest can inform others of relevant trends. They could post articles to showcase their skills and relay information to others. Connecting with experts in the field can prove to be useful. Videos can also be posted on LinkedIn for viewing relevant information.

Video Tutorials

Teachers can upload videos for complex topics like engineering or medicine to help students learn better by using visual examples and demonstrations. This is especially helpful for a visual learner. Not everyone will have certain software installed on their computers. Therefore, in this case, they can utilize the videos to learn quickly without having to visit their school or library to use the software. ( is also a website that people can use for learning through videos.

Video tutorials may have some potential to replace in-class learning. However, some people may prefer actual classroom interaction rather than videos. This is usually because videos feel more distant and informal. What if someone wanted to ask a question? Asking in person will take five minutes. E-mails could potentially take days. Learning online can be efficient but the lack of personal interaction could cause issues for some people.

While videos may be informative, some argue that not everyone has the time to watch videos. It may, however, appeal to those who want to learn visually as opposed to reading walls of text. Shorter videos would increase retention as a result because viewers would pay more attention if the video was short and concise. However, through video usage, these days there are several tools for learning. For example, people can use Adobe Captivate, PowerPoint and Prezi to present information in a more visually appealing way. Images should naturally fit with the page and be easy to view for best results. Google Docs can be used to edit in real time so everyone can see what’s being edited. WordPress is also used for editing and creating websites, and can be used for informing others of certain topics.

Final Comments

In conclusion, there seems to be many possibilities for e-learning. However, we also notice that there are advantages and disadvantages to these different types of media in e-learning. Message boards are more archaic, but can get the job done for simpler tasks. Social media can be helpful to many groups of people who can help others simply by viewing the posts and uploading files. Using software has become a helpful way to display information in an appealing way. Depending on the topic at hand, one must judge for themselves which tool is the best for learning, because each type has its own uses.


Justin Ferriman, July 21, 2013.

YourTrainingEdge, April 12, 2017.

Laura Lynch, March 27, 2018.

Julian Hoh-Il Synn is a student at Seneca College in the Technical Communications program and has an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto. Julian decided to go into the technical writing field and so joined Seneca to further hone his skills. Julian has several other skills including web programming, SQL, content management systems, and knowledge in software development. Julian believes that by using these different skills, he can excel in the technical writing field greatly and gain an edge. He is currently in a work-study position and hopes that by getting actual hands-on experience in the field, he can finally confirm that technical writing is right for him.

Effective Use of Games in Instructional Design

By: Mike Fowler

Games have been a part of human history going back to ancient times, and with the prevalence of computers, gaming consoles, and mobile devices in the world today, gaming is more common and accessible than ever before. Playing a game is a great way to entertain yourself, but more than that, a game can be a great way to learn a new skill or concept without it feeling like a tedious lesson. Different game mechanics and strategies can help the mind think and absorb information in unique ways. This article discusses some best practices to follow when designing a learning game (also known as a serious game) with a focus on digital gaming for business-related learning outcomes.

Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning

As Holly Bradbury puts it, gaming is, “the application of game mechanics to a non-game activity.” One common way to gamify a work activity is to add additional rewards for completing tasks beyond expectation. A sales competition where employees compete for the best sales record to win a prize could be considered an instance of gamification. Gamification is useful for incentivizing employees to perform tasks with which they are already familiar to a higher degree of professionalism. It doesn’t, however, do much in the way of teaching the user how to accomplish tasks in the first place. On the other hand, game-based learning involves building a game from the ground up with the specific goal of teaching a user how to complete a task or achieve a goal. Steven Boller notes that a good learning game will employ gaming mechanics and gameplay goals which utilize “the science of how we learn […] such as spaced repetition and feedback loops” to reinforce the intended lesson of the game.

Goals of Game-Based Learning

The main purpose of a learning game is to help users achieve an instructional goal while creating a more exciting and engaging learning experience. Getting better at any task involves practice, the same way getting better at a game involves practice. Having the user perform repetitive tasks in a gaming environment makes them practice while not realizing it, so when they perform the task in an actual work environment they already have the skills they need. They are less likely to make costly mistakes because they have already had the opportunity to make those mistakes and learn how to avoid them in a no-consequences gaming environment.

Best Practices for Designing Game-Based Learning Programs

Make Sure the Game is Audience-Appropriate

Always consider your intended audience; they should be the ones that dictate what your final learning game looks and plays like. A younger audience, Duane Shoemaker suggests, may respond better to a fast-paced action game, while an older audience may be the opposite, preferring a turn-based game they can play at their own pace. If the game is intended for a company’s employees, consider what personality types are attracted to the company or industry. A computer programming company and a women’s cosmetics business will probably attract a completely different type of person. Personality type could have a large impact on a game’s visuals and overall appearance, as well as on the gameplay itself.

Know Your Gaming

Before attempting to design a learning game you should be familiar with gaming in general. Common gaming mechanics and conventions give a developer a pre-established platform on which to build. You want this game to be educational and informative, but you also want it to be fun; if the game is not enjoyable it defeats the purpose of learning through gaming in the first place.

Understand Learning Games as a Genre

Learning games are unique when compared to other games. The primary purpose of most games is simply to be fun, leaving a designer a great deal of freedom. The primary purpose of a learning game, however, is to teach users to understand a concept or complete a task while still being, as both Bradbury and Boller put it, “fun enough” to make the learning experience enjoyable. A learning game is a teaching device first, and a game second.

Have a Clear Purpose

While designing your learning game, be sure to always have your purpose at the forefront of your mind. The purpose of a learning game is to help the user achieve a learning goal and every aspect of the game should be working toward this goal. While considering which activities to include in a game and—as Shoemaker mentions, even where to include them—a designer should have a clear idea of what they intend the user to learn from the activity. Boller discusses how, when designing a game intended as a training module for employees, a designer should understand the company’s goals and make sure the gameplay and gaming objectives relate appropriately.

Keep it Simple

Complex games can be fun for a gamer playing for the sake of gaming, but this is not the goal of a learning game. To most effectively communicate learning information—especially more complex information—the gameplay itself should be as simple as possible while remaining entertaining. Long activities and complicated rules can detract from the learning process, making the game more about the game and less about the learning.

Playtest and Get Feedback

Boller also emphasizes the importance of playtesting—the process of having members of your game’s intended audience play your game and provide feedback. This integral part of game design is even more important when developing a learning game, since they must be fun but also educational. Playtesting can give game designers different perspectives based on the types of personalities and knowledge levels of their playtesters. The process can help to iron out kinks in gameplay, identify any points that may be confusing, and provide other suggestions for improvement. Knowing beforehand how your audience will receive your game can save them headaches and frustration, neither of which are conducive to a learning environment.


A learning game can be a great way to teach a user a task or concept, but it should be approached quite differently than a regular game. A designer should invest a good deal of time in planning a learning game so that it will be able to achieve its teaching goal while being audience appropriate and entertaining. A learning game should be simple on the surface, while making use of the science of how human minds learn, and should keep business goals and learning objectives as its top priorities.



Bradbury, Holly, Instructional Design vs. Learning Game Design: What’s the Difference?, 2017,

Bradbury, Holly, Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning: What’s the Difference?, 2017,

Boller, Steven, Are you an Instructional Designer, a Learning Game Designer or Both?, 2014,

Boller, Steve, 4 Learning Game Design Mistakes Instructional Designers Make, 2017,

Shoemaker, Duane, Games for Learning, 2010,

Mike Fowler is a student attending the Technical Communication program at Seneca College. He has had a very successful first semester and is looking forward to his Work Integrated Learning semester working for the Royal Bank of Canada. Mike’s hobbies include playing guitar and playing games of all kinds.