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Games for Learning | Design for Engagement | 1 of 4

Presenters: Dr. Tim Hudson | Max Holechek | Ayu Othman

In a recent webinar entitled “Games for Learning,” the three of us discussed Design Principles for Student Engagement in Blended Learning Models. This blog post is the first in a series where we’ll expand on the principles that are used in the design of games and video games. The takeaway for educators—and especially those using blended learning models—is understanding how these principles can be used to improve classroom lesson designs and evaluate learning games. Like all learning resources, learning games must be analyzed in terms of how well they align with established curricular learning goals. The quality of digital learning experiences is just as important as the quality of classroom experiences. Thus, we should always look at particular games and ask the question, “Is using this game an effective means to an educational end?”

Our overarching point in the webinar was that games should be fun, and that fun usually stems from achieving something called “flow.” Flow is achieved when a person has a “heightened focus and immersion in an activity.” The concept of flow was developed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a professor and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. In this context, achieving flow means finding just the right balance between a person’s skill and the difficulty of the task. We know that an easy task for a highly skilled person is boring to that individual. Similarly, a difficult task for someone with low skill causes anxiety for that person. The best games are designed to improve an individual’s skill level while increasing the difficulty of the game, and consistently matching their skill to the difficulty. Cheryl Lemke further describes these concepts in a recent whitepaper and webinar about Intelligent Adaptive Learning.

To kick off this blog series about design principles for great engagement, we want to highlight a few of the elements of flow. It’s important to note that great teachers and coaches already utilize these elements to engage their students. Four key elements of flow are :
• Challenging tasks that require skill to complete
• Clear goals for the task
• Clear feedback on progress when completing the task
• Concentration and a sense of control

If you’re implementing a blended learning model, these are a few of the elements that should be considered when developing classroom lessons as well as when evaluating online learning experiences. In the next few posts, we’ll look at specific design principles that help bring these elements to life in games for fun and games for learning.

Watch the Recorded Webinar Games and Learning Webinar below.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. February, 2004. TEDTalk: Flow, the secret to happiness
Baron, Sean. March, 2012. Cognitive Flow: The Psychology of Great Game Design
Chen, Jenova. July, 2005. MFA Thesis: Flow in Games

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