by Carrie Wiser, Senior Learning Experience Designer, The Game Agency, a division of ELB Learning
In our previous post, we discussed how spaced learning improves retention and minimizes the impact of the forgetting curve. In summary, short sessions spaced out over time with frequent opportunities to review make it easier to remember information. We noted that training games are a great way to incorporate active learning, repetition, and practice before, during, and after the learning session.
- Before to introduce concepts and get people into the mindset to learn
- During to keep everyone deeply engaged and learning
- After to reinforce learning and support transfer into long-term memory
The Game Agency’s game-authoring tool, The Training Arcade®, makes it easy for you to create games that support meaningful, self-motivated, repeated engagement with your content. In this post, we’ll look at how to integrate games during a training course or session. We’ll also explore how to incorporate training gamification into your instructional design approach.
Designing effective spaced learning sessions
Keep it short. We process new information in our brain’s temporary storage area, otherwise known as working memory. But anyone who has had to “drink from the firehose” knows that space is limited. Sweller (1988) famously set a limit of +/- seven items. Research since then has put the limit closer to four or five (Cepelewicz, 2008). If you want people to remember what they learn, you need to divide larger topics into smaller, more memorable parts.
Build on relevant prior knowledge. Have you ever started a course or presentation with a “what’s in it for me?” statement? Relevance is key to any learning experience. When a learner sees how the information relates to what they already know, they are more motivated to pay attention. This improves retention. Referring back to relevant prior knowledge also helps learners build connections that deepen understanding. It helps them form new pathways to that information, making it easier to process in working memory and faster to recall later.
Add frequent opportunities to review. Imagine that you are making sourdough bread for the first time. Do you memorize the steps before you begin and never look back, or do you refer back and check each step along the way? When we learn something new, we need to pause and review. Otherwise, we rapidly forget most of what we learn. Frequent repetitions, with effective feedback, give learners the opportunity to process what they have learned and to learn from their mistakes.
Space sessions out over time. Making an effort to recall what we recently learned helps us reinforce that information in long-term memory. Most studies have found that three sessions, repeating the same information, are most effective. You may space out these sessions over a few days, weeks, or months. As Carey (2014) notes, the optimal amount of time between sessions varies based on the kind of information and when the learner needs to use that information.
How games can help
Game design can inform learning design. Consider the elements of a computer game that you enjoy. There is likely a story that provides context. There may be some instructional material or a tutorial, but the vast majority of what you learn comes from experience—repetition, failure, and feedback. Most games are divided into a series of levels that focus on a discrete challenge that can be completed in one sitting. Each level builds on the skills and knowledge you gained previously in the game. Keeping this structure in mind can help you structure a more effective spaced learning experience.
Use games to establish context. One of the risks of spacing out learning events is that people may have trouble connecting the dots to see the “big picture.” Story-based games can provide context to help learners relate to, remember, and organize information. For example, if you are designing a customer service training course, think about the types of issues that service reps will encounter. Then create a Detective game that addresses some key decision points, and follow up on them during the rest of the training session. When learners see how the training applies in the real world, it sparks curiosity and drives engagement. If they make mistakes, that’s okay! All of these things serve to make the learning experience more meaningful and memorable.
Use games to support active learning. In traditional training, you give learners information first, then show them how to use it. Games give you the opportunity to “flip the script” and teach via experience and feedback. For example, you can start each session with a Scenario type game that only the training can solve. When learners are uncertain about what to do, it provides an incentive to learn. When learners make a mistake, it is natural for them to want to understand why. Effective feedback should be clear, concise, and resolve misunderstandings. You may use it to provoke an emotional response or provide tips for remembering the correct action in the future.
Use games to make repetition more frequent and fun. Repetition is key to the spaced learning approach. You can add short games during and between spaced learning sessions to make this repetition more engaging and interesting. The element of challenge engages learners and gives them the freedom to play and learn from their mistakes, which enhances memory and retention. For example, you can:
- Add vocabulary-based Wheel of Fortune® games to review key terms and concepts.
- Develop weekly Match or Jump games that can be completed quickly between training sessions.
- Add a short Trivia game before (or instead of) a final summary slide at the end of each topic. This gives learners a fun way to pause, actively recall, and apply the information they learned.
- Encourage learners to participate in a JEOPARDY!® game as a comprehensive review at the end of a training session, then provide the link so that learners can continue to play and improve their personal score.
Use gamification to drive engagement further. Some learners are motivated to complete training on their own, while others need a little extra push. Gamification elements like points, badges, and leaderboards are a fun way to increase engagement and motivation, especially when your target audience has a more competitive streak. The Game Agency’s Arcades™ gamification platform gives you access to gamification elements like personal statistics, leaderboards, and prizes that can drive players to keep coming back for more.
Improve Spaced Learning with Game Metrics
Use quantitative insights to improve training design. Typical training evaluation forms, or “smile sheets,” gauge peoples’ perception of and reaction to the training. These are subjective measures. In contrast, game metrics provide real-time, data-driven insights about levels of engagement and performance. You can see what games people are playing the most, how long it takes to complete each game, and which games are abandoned or ignored. This can help you evaluate the flow and pacing of your spaced learning sessions, and determine where you might need to make some adjustments to better capture your learners’ time or attention.
Review game scores to identify learning gaps. On a more discrete level, individual game scores show you what people are learning (#winning) and who might be having a little trouble getting ahead. You can zoom in on a question-by-question level to see which questions are being answered correctly and where the stumbling blocks might be. This can inform how you run the next training session, how you write assessment questions, or even how you structure future spaced training events. For example, you might choose to emphasize some topics over others and/or include more repetitions of difficult concepts.
In our next post, we’ll look at the benefits of adding games after your training workshops. We’ll discuss how to use games to reinforce key topics and help learners transfer new skills from working to long-term memory.
Carey, Benedict (2014). How We Learn: The Surprising Truths About When, Where, and Why it Happens.
Cepelewicz, J. (2018). Overtaxed Working Memory Knocks the Brain Out of Sync, Quanta Magazine. https://www.quantamagazine.org/overtaxed-working-memory-knocks-the-brain-out-of-sync-20180606/
Sweller, J., Cognitive load during problem-solving: Effects on learning, Cognitive Science, 12, 257-285 (1988).