Monday, October 18, 2010

What can alternate reality games do for you?

I've written a lot in the past about design considerations (here and here) and lessons learned (here) for alternate reality games (ARGs) for learning, but another important question to address is: what are ARGs good at teaching?

This is a multi-layered question, as ARGs are complex learning experiences and most are not designed as a simple linear process like you would see in a typical e-learning module. Because ARGs are storyline driven and depend on learners to engage with the content to complete the game tasks and/or inform their game decisions, it is important to consider two key questions when determining whether an ARG is an appropriate learning activity.

1. Does learner interaction with the content positively impact the learning goals?

This is a basic, but important question. Sometimes you just want people to know something, or do something differently. Company policies, learning a new process...these are training initiatives that are important, but they don't necessarily require learner interaction nor are they subject to interpretation. There are a lot of topics, however, where learners actively engaging with the content is critical to learning it. Think about topics like leadership development, project management and team communication, sales strategy, or quality assurance review. In all of these training areas, learners get better by practicing and engaging with the content. Designing an ARG that encourages critical thinking and learning by doing is a great application of an ARG.
2. Is it difficult to get learners to engage with the content effectively in other formats?
Sometimes its difficult to motivate learners to engage with content. Most training professionals don't like to admit this, but we all know its true. Training exercises can feel forced, and often it depends on each learner's personal motivation to get something out of the training. One reason for this may be that the delivery mechanism of the training isn't appropriate or creates barriers to learning. For example, can you develop a sales strategy for your customers after watching a PowerPoint presentation on developing a sales strategy? Can you lead a team after an e-learning module on leadership skills? Will you know who to contact or where to find the information critical to your job after sitting through your HR orientation? Probably not. And that's because the format of the training doesn't provide you with the proper opportunities to practice or the motivation to engage with the tasks. ARGs can be designed to address almost any topic or content in a way that allows for more interaction and with an overlying competitive element that provides additional motivation to learn and engage. 
ARGs allow for flexible design that can encourage problem-solving, communication skills, leadership skills, information gathering and critical thinking skills. Do you have a need within your organization to help learners practice these things? An ARG can help.

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