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, http://www.theknowledgeguru.com/instructional-design-vs-learning-game-design-whats-difference

Bradbury, Holly, Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning: What’s the Difference?, 2017, https://www.theknowledgeguru.com/gamification-vs-game-based-learning

Boller, Steven, Are you an Instructional Designer, a Learning Game Designer or Both?, 2014, https://elearningindustry.com/are-you-an-instructional-designer-a-learning-game-designer-or-both

Boller, Steve, 4 Learning Game Design Mistakes Instructional Designers Make, 2017, https://elearningindustry.com/4-learning-game-design-mistakes-instructional-designers-make

Shoemaker, Duane, Games for Learning, 2010, http://www.instructionaldesignexpert.com/games_for_learning.html

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.

Best Practices in Designing Instructional Material

By: Alyssa Haffejee

Instructional materials are tools that can be used to support teaching and learning. They are any resources used to help teachers teach, like a textbook or workbook. When designing instructional material, you want the content to be designed to promote learning. By following these best practices, you can improve your instructional material for better retention.

Choose an instructional design model

Follow a pre-existing design model to help shape your content in a way that will best suit your material and your readers.


The ADDIE model consists of five phases:

  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Development
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

The ADDIE model is used to create learning experiences, courses, and instructional content.

The first phase is the analysis phase. It defines the instructional problem, the instructional goals, the learning metrics, and the reader profile. Next is the design phase where the learning objectives, method of instruction, and content are defined. Then comes the development phase, which involves taking the information in the design phase and developing the content and learning interactions. The implementation phase is when the content and materials are input in to the Learning Management Systems or given to the trainers. Finally, the evaluation phase determines the effectiveness and success of the material created.

The ADDIE best fits organizations that adopt a waterfall methodology.

Sam Model

The SAM model develops instructional material through iterations. It is an agile process created for performance-driven learning. The model is broken down into three large phases: the preparation phase, the iterative design phase, and the iterative development phase.

So Who Is SAM?  Friesen, Kaye And Associates 2018 https://www.fka.com/so-who-is-sam/.

The preparation phase is where background information is collected. Next is the iterative design phase. It starts with a collaborative brainstorming meeting then rotates through design, prototype, and review stages. The third phase is iterative development. It involves cycling through the developmental, implementation, and evaluation stage.

Unlike the ADDIE model, the SAM model is a better instructional design model for organizations that encourage flexible processes and fast feedback.

Learning Circle Framework

The Learning Circle Framework includes three phases: target, create, and launch. Much like the SAM model, the Learning Circle Framework is an agile-friendly model.

Learning Circle Framework
Learning Circle Framework. https://www.instructionaldesigncentral.com/learning-circle-framework

The target phase defines the focus of the content, the audience, and any other information that should be considered when creating the material. Then is the create phase where the learning materials are created, tested, and revised. Finally, there is the launch phase, which is concerned with material delivery.

Chunk your information

Chunking information is when you group information into bite-sized amounts. It enhances comprehension and memory. By organizing information into manageable chunks, you will help your audience follow and remember the lesson.

Be precise

What do you want your audience to learn from the material? This question should help pinpoint exactly what you should and shouldn’t include.

Follow Mayer’s 12 multimedia design principles

Richard E. Mayer defines 12 principles that should be followed when creating multimedia presentations. The 12 principles are founded on how people learn better in multimedia lessons such as e-learning materials or PowerPoint presentations.

  1. Coherence: Remove extraneous words, pictures, and sounds.
  2. Signaling: Add cues that highlight the organization of the material.
  3. Redundancy: Add graphics and narration.
  4. Spatial contiguity: Present corresponding words and images near each other.
  5. Temporal contiguity: Present words and images simultaneously.
  6. Segmenting: Present information in user-paced segments.
  7. Pre-training: State the names and characteristics of the lesson’s main concepts.
  8. Modality: Add graphics and narration.
  9. Multimedia: Add words and images together.
  10. Personalization: Use a conversational style.
  11. Voice: Use a friendly human voice.
  12. Image: Don’t add a photograph of the speaker.


Learning is an individual process. We all have different learning styles and preferences. Give your audience the best possible opportunity to learn by following these best practices when designing instructional material.


 "Instructional Design Models". Instructionaldesigncentral.Com, 2018, https://www.instructionaldesigncentral.com/instructionaldesignmodels. Accessed 3 Dec 2018.

"Learning Circle Framework". Instructionaldesigncentral.Com, 2018, https://www.instructionaldesigncentral.com/learning-circle-framework. Accessed 3 Dec 2018.

"So Who Is SAM? - Friesen, Kaye And Associates". Friesen, Kaye And Associates, 2018, https://www.fka.com/so-who-is-sam/. Accessed 3 Dec 2018.

Mayer, Richard E. Multimedia Learning. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Alyssa Haffejee describes herself as a professional brunch eater, and graduate student in the technical communications program at Seneca college. She is about to begin her Work Integrated Learning semester at Nuclear Waste Management Organization as a developmental communications student. She also has an undergraduate degree in professional writing from York University.

Can Schools Survive the Information Age? Yes, by flipping the traditional classroom!

By: Ainsley Ma

The Information Age

We are living in the Information Age. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “information age” as the current period in human history during which we are using information as a commodity “that is quickly and widely disseminated and easily available especially through the use of computer technology.” However, collecting information does not make us smarter.

Julian Birkinshaw discusses four consequences of having too much information:

  1. Paralysis through Analysis: the larger the decision, the more information we need to justify our actions.
  2. Easy access to data makes us intellectually lazy: our dependence on automated processing machines has deterred us from exercising our critical thinking and judgment.
  3. Impulsive and flighty consumers: having access to multiple sources of computer technologies makes us more distracted and less productive.
  4. A little learning is dangerous: we consume and share information with limited understanding of it.

We must find a way to use technology without experiencing Birkinshaw’s consequences. One solution is flipping the traditional classroom. We need to teach students how to use technology as a learning tool.

Flipped Classroom Model

The traditional classroom model follows Bloom’s Taxonomy. It is lectured-based and begins by introducing new concepts to students in the classroom. In a flipped classroom, instructors introduce new materials to students before the classroom. Instructors can assign video lectures, short readings, lecture slides, and other online media to their students before the class meets.

This method enables students to spend more time in-class analyzing, evaluating, and creating original ideas with peers and instructors. Overall, students further their mental development and reduce their homework load. However, these are not the only benefits.

Flipping Birkinshaw’s Article

A flipped classroom enables students to use technology as a tool that accelerates their cognitive development. In a flipped classroom, students learn to overcome Birkinshaw’s consequences:

  1. Paralysis through analysis
  2. Easy access to data makes us intellectually lazy
  3. Impulsive and flighty consumers
  4. A little learning is dangerous

Technology Cultivates Good Researching Skills

In a flipped classroom, instructors use technology to introduce new material to their students prior to class. Instructors can post online videos, lecture slides, recorded lectures, and other online media to prepare their students for in-depth class activities.

Instructors lead by example. When instructors use information from the Internet, they are also demonstrating to their students what makes an online source credible, legitimate, and original. As a result, students are more confident when conducting online research because they know where to find credible online sources. Thus, students can use technology to find the right information and make informed decisions.

Technology Encourages Critical Thinking

Instructors in a flipped classroom use technology as a tool to organize activities that focus on critical thinking and judgement. By posting online quizzes, uploading worksheets, or assigning short writing assignments, instructors can check if their students have completed the readings and gauge their level of understanding. Students can use these mini assignments to see their progress as well.

This model utilizes the classroom as a space for students to collaborate and discuss new concepts. Some in-class activities that develop higher cognitive skills include: debates or discussions, group presentations, and problem sets that practice out-of-the-box thinking. Therefore, instructors in a flipped classroom use technology to prepare students for activities that focus on higher cognitive skills.

Technology Promotes Self-Learning

Birkinshaw writes, “With multiple sources of stimulation available at our fingertips, the capacity to focus and concentrate on a specific activity is falling.” However, instructors in a flipped classroom use technology for educational not gaming purposes. Thereby, students learn to use technology without being distracted.

Before class, students can access online course materials whenever and wherever they want. Instructors may choose to introduce new content in the following ways:

  • Video lectures or tutorials
  • Lecture slides
  • Digital modules
  • Links to articles, journals, or blogs
  • Other online media

This model enables instructors to create a space for their students to engage with technology that is conducive, not distracting, to their mental development.

Students can learn at their own pace. They can also discover what their preferred method of learning is: read and write, visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. When students learn to use technology for educational purposes, then technology becomes a powerful learning tool.

Technology Makes Us Informed Users

Todd Schwartz and his co-authors all argue that flipped classrooms have more flexibility when it comes to customizing in-class activities. For instance, if students want to learn about the latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, then instructors can spend more class time teaching AI technologies.

Instructors can show their students recorded panel discussions on YouTube or provide a list of the latest products that use AI. Then, they can instruct students to research companies that use AI and to create a presentation about their findings. In conclusion, this model encourages students to become informed users of the Information Age.

What’s the verdict?

The chances of experiencing Birkinshaw’s consequences increases as more content is posted online. To prevent students from being overloaded with information, instructors should consider flipping the traditional classroom model.


Birkinshaw, Julian. “Beyond the Information Age.” Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/06/beyond-information-age/

Information Age. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Information%20Age

Todd A. Schwartz, Rebecca R. Andridge, Kirstin L. Sainani, Dalene K. Stangle, and Megan L. Neely. “Diverse Perspectives on a Flipped Biostatistics Classroom.” Journal of Statistics Education, 24: 2, p. 74-84, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10691898.2016.1192362?needAccess=true

Ainsley Ma earned a BA in Creative Writing from York University but found it difficult to find employment as a creative writer. She wanted to utilize writing and communication skills but needed more experience as a writer. Through word of mouth, she discovered the Technical Communication program at Seneca College. Before enrolling, Ma had no idea what a technical communicator does. She says, “Now that I’m a Technical Communication student, who’s done the first semester and about to enter the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) placement, I can confidently say that I am a technical communicator.”

Don’t Be Fooled by These Debunked Learning Myths!

By: Adele Sommers

Imagine you’re attending an exciting, high-value conference on how to be a more effective communicator and leader. The many distinguished presenters tout impressive careers and credentials.

Each acclaimed speaker shares a compelling message illustrated by colorful charts, graphs, and figures.

Given this impressive backdrop, is there any reason to doubt a word the speakers are saying?

The trouble is, even in these settings, wise and learned people sometimes spread bogus, debunked, or dubious information. And when we hear something that sounds intriguing and plausible from someone we like and respect, we often can’t wait to share it with others!

Let’s examine two popular myths so you can recognize them the next time you see them — and avoid passing them along to other people as gospel.

Myth #1: The “7%-38%-55% rule”

Myth #2: The “10-20-30-50-70-90% theory”

Myth #1: The “7%-38%-55% rule”

This rule claims that when we listen to people speaking, we derive their meaning as follows:

  • 7% from their spoken words
  • 38% from their tone of voice, and
  • 55% from their body language

In other words, the rule says we supposedly gain very little understanding (only 7%) from the verbal part of a message, which involves the words and phrases used. Instead, we gain most of the meaning (the remaining 93%) from the nonverbal cues given off by the speaker, such as his or her tone of voice and body language.

Why is that a myth?

Although this rule does have some validity, it has been incorrectly interpreted to apply to everything — including factual information. If the rule actually did apply to factual information, we’d have very little reason to listen to someone’s words to understand the meaning behind them, such as during a lecture. To make sense of the lecture — even if it were delivered in a foreign language — we could primarily focus on the speaker’s gestures and tone of voice, and mostly ignore the words themselves.

Therefore, the common belief that the “7%-38%-55% rule” applies to every type of information is false. It’s a gross mischaracterization of the research conducted by Dr. Albert Mehrabian in the 1960s. Dr. Mehrabian’s research was not about communicating ideas in general. As explained here, his findings pertained only when people were expressing their feelings and attitudes in an ambiguous way.

How so? When people say one thing about their emotions but convey something very different through their tone of voice and body language, it’s confusing and makes us wonder what’s really true. For example:

Verbal: Richard says, “I feel very relaxed and comfortable with you.”

Nonverbal: Richard looks anxious, stares downward, and appears withdrawn.

So, what should we believe in this case? Should we believe the verbal or the nonverbal aspects of Richard’s message?

If you said the nonverbal aspects, you were right. Whenever people express their emotions ambiguously, Mehrabian found that listeners focus on the nonverbal cues (tone of voice and body language) more than on the spoken words. That’s the correct interpretation of Mehrabian’s “7%-38%-55% rule”!

For an excellent illustration of this myth in action, watch this short video: Busting the Mehrabian Myth

Myth #2: The “10-20-30-50-70-90% theory”

This theory proposes that certain kinds of learning activities are more effective than others in helping us remember something new. For example, the theory suggests that we’ll remember:

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we see
  • 30% of what we hear
  • 50% of what we see and hear
  • 70% of what we say and write, and
  • 90% of what we say and do

Why is that a myth? Although the basic idea sounds fairly reasonable, there seems to be no scientific evidence to back it up. It also has some other glaring problems — here are just two of them...

First, the percentage figures are too neat and tidy to be scientific. Valid research studies are unlikely to produce results that are cleanly rounded to the nearest multiple of 10 (20%, 30%, 40%, and so on), as noted by Dr. Will Thalheimer, who has carefully critiqued this myth.

Further, presenters often tailor their numbers (as well as their categories) to mirror the subject they’re talking about, without citing any credible scientific data. In other words, they fabricate their figures to match their message!

Second, the model represents a gross generalization about learning. Learning depends on many factors. So, we need to be very careful about attributing learning to activities that aren’t clearly defined (and these activities aren’t clearly defined). Because the meanings aren’t clear, the related assumptions don’t hold water, either.
Once you start asking a few questions like these, the theory begins to fall apart:

  1. What's the difference between “seeing” and “reading”? Why would we remember more from seeing?
  2. Do we really learn more from “hearing” something spoken than from “reading” the same material? Doesn’t reading allow us to go back several times to revisit and ponder an idea, unlike hearing?
  3. What exactly does “saying and writing” refer to? Does it mean that we would write out a section of text while speaking it out loud? Wouldn’t that be distracting for some people?
  4. When we learn something by “doing,” does that imply that we’re being given timely and meaningful feedback by an instructor or coach that would tell us whether we’re doing it correctly? We don’t know.

So, how did this theory originate?

Edger Dale's Cone of Experience
Edger Dale's Cone of Experience

The model itself has evolved over time, appearing in many different forms since the 1960s or earlier.

Many variations have surfaced as bar charts, circle diagrams, pyramids, and cones — and all contain invented numbers, categories, or both.

One example is the “Cone of Experience,” attributed to Edgar Dale, who wrote about audiovisual media in 1946.

Dale’s “cone,” however, did not include any percentages. So, like many examples attributed to Dale, the one pictured has totally made-up information.

In summary, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon and adopt new ideas from people you respect and admire. But some of what masquerades as wisdom is really misleading — or pure bunk — passed along by respectable people who never fully fact-checked their references. So, don’t be fooled! Keep an eye out for myths like these and be sure to dig deep into any sources of information that you pass along!

Adele Sommers
Adele Sommers


Adele Sommers has spent over two decades helping firms boost their profitability through improved human and business results. She designs award-winning e-learning, instructor-led courseware, and blended training for organizations in a variety of industries, including financial and insurance services, manufacturing, trust building, project management, leadership development, presentation design, process improvement, quality assurance, and various technology-related fields.

Adele holds a Doctorate in Education with a focus on Human Performance Technology, as well as a Certificate in Human Performance. She is the president of Business Performance Inc., a consultancy she launched in 2006. She has also served as president of the San Luis Obispo Technical & Business Communicators (formerly, the San Luis Obispo chapter of the Society for Technical Communication) since 2002. More information about her professional work resides at LearnShareProsper.com.

Update: O*NET Participation

By: Marcia Shannon

In April, 2018, we shared a request from the Research Triangle Institute. They were seeking experts to help them update the occupation description for Instructional Designers and Technologists in the US Department of Labor’s O*NET Data Collection Program.

If chosen to participate, you would have been contacted by a Research Triangle Institute Business Liaison beginning the week of February 21, 2019. You may or may not have been contacted due to random sampling.

Your participation will contribute to a key resource that provides our nation’s citizens with continuously updated occupational information.