How do Serious Games and Gamification Address Adult Learning Theories? 

I've written previously about The Laws of Learning and how they map to game design and these still ring true, in fact when you look int adult learning there are more and more parallels between how we play games and how we learn. 

By understanding how we learn we can design better learning interventions which benefit everyone. Understanding game theory and learning theory means we can better understand learner needs, understand what technology can help learners and meet learners need whenever and wherever they are. 

Take a holistic approach to the adult learner

When we graduate from education we are no longer forced to 'formally learn'. By that I mean we no longer have to attend classes and pass exams. We enter the workplace and a whole heap of new pressures and stresses enter our lives; we have demands placed on us that we never had before. Learning often takes a backseat to the day job. Therefore as designers, it's vitally important to understand where a learner is emotionally and cognitively when designing a solution.  

  1. Why is this learning important?  When it comes to prioritising their time, being able to answer this question is critical! Being able to answer the 'why' provides the motivation and will put your learner into a 'willing-to-learn' state. Games provide the 'why' through compelling narratives as well as building intrigue and curiosity through signposting (think clues), encouraging exploration and allowing learners to build their own why.  
  2. What has this learner experienced before, how has it been delivered, what worked and what didn't? What is the current foundation of their knowledge and skill set? Understanding the current schemata will help you to position any additional learning in the right way. It may sound strange but game thinking can be delivered outside of a game. Making any learning process more playful can differentiate your experience from past attempts and create a window of novelty, curiosity, and intrigue to build longer term engagement. 
  3. Create your learning in a way that encourages and autonomy and self-directed learning. Games place you in control by allowing you to make choices and understand the consequences of your actions. 
  4. Learning by doing - we know we learn best when we apply ourselves to a task. Theoretical understanding is important, but the application is vital to a deep learning experience. 

Create cycles of 'Aha' moments

We as humans have limited attention and memory, we're quite easily overloaded. To create maximum engagement and deep learning you need to create cycles of learning. Shift your thinking from a linear path to one of loops, repetitive loops. This doesn't mean rote learning, rather it's about learning underlying concepts and then applying them in different scenarios.

Games provide free form, user-driven experiences that encourage exploration and experimentation that lead to meaningful ‘aha’ moments. The secret is working with an understanding of the learner and the content and blending them with learning outcomes to create...

Scalable and transferable learning

To experience is to learn. Experiential Learning Theory outlines how humans make sense of situations through experiences. Experiential learning helps learners build an emotional connection through content - games are exceptional at delivering this with fantastic storylines and well-developed characters.

Games can also give us different perspectives, we can take on different persons and gain insights into different thought processes that otherwise would be difficult to get across. We've also seen games work particularly well when there are opportunities for reflection and social learning opportunities.

To really create learning that sticks your aha loops need to build in complexity and scale in difficulty. This will provide evidence that your learners understand the conceptual concepts and can use critical thinking to apply them to different scenarios.