Gamification is a trending topic in learning circles, driven by a greater understanding of motivation and behavioral change. However, ‘gamification’ can take a variety of different forms: gamified learning and serious games. Gamified learning takes its inspiration from video games, and is often instantiated as points, badges, and leaderboards. These seek to add game elements alongside the learning content and add motivation. Serious games strive to incorporate game elements within the learning content, so that people learn through playing the game. For the purposes of learning higher-level skills, it is serious games hold the most intriguing potential.

Within this category of serious games are online simulations, an important category that has had a long history in online learning, but is growing again in popularity with the proliferation of digital tools. There are many types of simulations, and here we will focus on decision-making simulations, as they are most appropriate for teaching higher-level skills.

We’ll describe three types of decision-making simulations, that are on a spectrum of sophistication, ranging from the lowest to highest-fidelity simulation experience (and cost):

1. Simulation Type: Decision-Making Scenarios

These consist of short text, audio, or video clips that present a description of a situation, and then ask learners what they would do via a multiple-choice question. The correct answer is then usually given, with feedback on incorrect answers. These can be continued with a sequence of 3-4 additional scenarios, each time starting with the correct answer and continuing the scenario. Below is an example of the start of a decision-making scenario:

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These decision-making scenarios are very simple to create and are a great option if you want to reinforce some concepts in an interactive manner, with minimal costs.

2. Simulation Type: Text-based Adaptive Role-Plays

These are more robust choose-your-own-adventure scenarios that are text-based (to economize on costs). The main difference with scenarios is that the next part of the scenario learners receive is based on their previous choice. Thus, there will be multiple possible outcomes, with feedback given to learners along the way about the quality of their choices. This is also fairly easy to create, though requiring more thought to create a unified scenario with multiple paths that diverge and converge. There are numerous third-party tools to implement this simply, and one open-sourced tool we’ve used is Twinery. The integration to the NovoEd platform is very simple: it is launched in a self-contained window to complete. Below is an example of a story flow path that you can create with Twinery, and there are numerous similar programs that you can use.

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These adaptive role-plays allow for ‘consequences’ and cause people to question how their decisions have affected their path in the role-play. You should consider these when you want to convey some nuances of a new skill or situation. These are fairly low-cost, but do take some time and thought to create.

3. Simulation Type: Multi-media Immersive Simulations

These are the rich, immersive decision-making scenarios that may appear like an interactive story or comic book. These often have characters that are well-defined, and can include nuances around a specific type of decision-making (e.g. project management, selling to specific customer types, etc.). An example of a company that does these simulations is Kynectiv, which was spun-off from the University of Pittsburgh with a patented platform called DecisionSim. It allows for rich simulations and analytics to see decision-making patterns and choices within the simulation. Developing a good multimedia simulation can cost tens of thousands of $$, but can be worth it if it is focused around a specific scenario where a high-level of skill is of critical value. The integration through the NovoEd platform can be a simple separate window launch, or through LTI integration, in which results can be passed back to the NovoEd platform to track progress and completion. Below is an example scenario screen on the Kynectiv platform:

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As you can see, there are numerous possibilities for incorporating gamification through simulations into your online learning program. You can create these along a spectrum of simple multiple-choice text scenarios, to multi-path simulations, to fully immersive multimedia experiences (expect VR technologies to up the ante on the immersive experience even further in the near future). Regardless of which type you choose, the value you will provide depends upon how well thought out your simulation is, and how well it can foster experiences that will help learners achieve their learning objectives.