Potential problems with using serious games

“Although games can be effective learning environments, not all games are effective, nor are all games educational. Similarly, not all games are good for all learners or for all learning outcomes.”

– Diana Oblinger, 2006

      When deciding to use a game for training, it’s important to clearly state your learning objectives and to determine exactly what advantages the game will provide. If the game is too easy or too hard, or does not focus on the objectives, it may simply waste the learners’ time. Depending on the type of game you intend to use, you may need to go through a substantial testing phase to ensure success.

      Some of the possible issues to watch out for:

      • Playing the game becomes more important than the learning
      • Cost of producing a game exceeds learning return on investment
      • Game takes a long time to produce and is ineffective at training
      • Game too easy or too hard
      • Learning curve to start playing game is too high for the target audience
      • Learner remembers game but not content
      • Other learning tools may be more effective
      • Information incomplete or inaccurate in the game
      • The game is too difficult to maintain or keep up to date

    Problems with online environments in general

    When designing any learning activity it’s important to consider the learning styles of your audience. Some populations tend to be highly motivated and self-directed, but some will have trouble with the non-linear form of learning that can be characteristic of online learning environments. Some may simply be resistant to using a game, so when it is reasonable to provide alternatives, you may want to consider doing so.

    The quote below is from an article in the Electronic Journal of e-Learning, and represents the results of studies that are a few years old. It is possible that since this article was published, students’ behavior has changed substantially, but in business training the learner population is often older and may not take complete advantage of online resources.

    From Expected and Actual Student Use of an Online Learning Environment: A Critical Analysis by Nicola Beasley and Keith Smyth


    Despite the claims that can be made regarding the educational potential of OLEs, it is becoming apparent that some students, often including those who value what the learning environment has to offer, do not interact with them in a manner conducive to fully experiencing the benefits.

    Many students have a tendency to procrastinate rather than exploiting the opportunity for self-paced learning that exists online, which typically leads to them ‘falling behind’ (Hiltz 1997). It is also common to find that much studying actually occurs offline, and is largely based around working with printed copies of material (Crook 1997; Ward & Newlands 1998). Furthermore, research into the influence of learner differences in online contexts tends to indicate that only a minority of more focused or active students will fully utilise the materials and tools at their disposal, while the majority limit themselves to working with core materials and only satisfy the basic
    requirements for interacting with other features of their environments (Light et. al. 1997; Gibbs 1999; Karuppan 2001). Finally, in relation to online communication, it is widely accepted that students will rarely participate in
    asynchronous discussion or collaboration simply because a facility for this has been provided (Tolmie & Boyle 2000; Salmon 2002).