top of page

Chapter 8

Designing Games for Learning

Rodney D. Myers & Charles M. Reigeluth


Editors’ Foreword


Preconditions (when to use the theory)


  • All content.


  • All students.

      Learning environments

  • Designed environments that have rich, immersive experiences that simulate to some

                degree relevant real-world conditions and challenge learners with authentic, situated, and

                increasingly difficult problems.

      Instructional development constraints

  • Likely significant, depending on design decisions regarding the scope of rich media and the complexity of immersive experiences.


Values (opinions about what is important)

      About ends (learning goals)

  • The development of situated problem solving skills (which games promote by presenting learners with obstacles that require reasoned actions to overcome) is highly valued.

  • The promotion of transfer to real-world tasks (which games foster through authenticity and learning by doing) is highly valued.

  • The enhancement of feelings of self-efficacy (which games support by providing a safe environment for risk-taking, by enabling collaboration and social learning, and by providing various forms of scaffolding) is highly valued.

  • The appreciation of play as a fundamental source of learning experiences is highly valued.

      About means (instructional methods)

  • Aligning the goals of the game with the learning goals is highly valued.

  • Using authentic settings and tasks that promote learning by doing is highly valued.

  • Providing interesting challenges that are optimized for the learner’s current knowledge and skills to promote immersion and flow is highly valued.

  • The learner’s actions should result in natural consequences and, when appropriate, additional explanatory feedback.

  • Including scaffolding that adjusts difficulty, provides guidance and support, and offers part-task practice when needed is highly valued.

  • Requiring cooperative play and authentic roles for players is highly valued when learning goals include team development and collaboration skills.

      About priorities (criteria for successful instruction)

  • Effectiveness and appeal are highly valued, but efficiency in terms of the time and expense to develop a game may affect the decision to use this approach.

  • The ability of games to foster intrinsic motivation is highly valued.

      About power (to make decisions about the previous three)

  • In a rich, immersive game, the learner may have great latitude in choosing which challenges to undertake as well as when and how.

  • The learner should have significant control over the frequency of non-diegetic instruction (instruction that is not an inherent part of the game).


Universal Principles

     1. Creating a vision of the game: A holistic, “fuzzy” vision of the game guides design decisions regarding the game space and the instructional space.

  • Learning goals: Specify what the learner will know, be able to do, and feel as a result of undergoing the game-based learning experience.

  • Authenticity: The dimensions of authenticity should be consistent with whole, real-world tasks, including portrayal of values, attitudes, beliefs, and cultures and provision of situational understandings.

  • Levels of difficulty: A game should be designed as a series of levels of increasing complexity and difficulty, each of which must be mastered before the next level is “unlocked.”  Each level is a version of the task and is made up of many individual performances of the task that share the characteristics of that version.

  • Scaffolding and mastery assessment: A game’s instructional overlay encompasses all aspects that are intended to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of learning. 

  • Feedback: A game has four different kinds of feedback: natural consequences of decisions/actions, explanations, debriefing, and immediate feedback in the form of hints or explanations of causal influences or reasoning.

  • Motivation: Various aspects of games stimulate intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  Motivation may be enhanced by collaboration with others, authenticity and relevance of the scenario and role, and confidence or expectancy for success.

     2. Designing the game space

  • Goals: The actions and strategies needed to succeed in the game should be aligned with those needed to achieve the desired learning outcomes.

  • Game mechanics: Conceive or translate the desired learning outcomes into actions (including cognitive actions) that form the basis for playing the game.

  • Rules: Rules should generate outcomes and feedback consistent with the real world to promote transfer.

  • Players: Create roles for players to engage with the game either alone or in competition or cooperation with other players and non-player characters.

  • Environment: Make design decisions regarding the environment based on the learning goals, the appropriate degree of fidelity, and the type or genre of game.

  • Objects: Create game objects (components of the game system) that embody and enable the game mechanics or are affected by the player’s use of the game mechanics.

  • Information: Provide several types of information that players use to make decisions regarding which actions or choices will lead toward a goal.

  • Technology: Select equipment (physical objects) required to play the game, likely including a computing device with various forms of input and output, a network, and data storage.

  • Narrative: Use narrative to provide both a familiar frame for experience and a cognitive frame of reference (schema) to promote recall.

  • Aesthetics: Make design decisions for all of the other game components in such a way as to create the overall aesthetic experience of the game - the emotional responses and felt experiences that arise in the player(s) through interaction with/in the game system.

     3. Designing the instructional space

  • Adjusting: Adjust aspects of the game to provide an appropriate level of difficulty for the player, thereby placing the player in his or her zone of proximal development.

  • Coaching: Provide coaching (a form of scaffolding) that provides cognitive and/or emotional support to the player by providing information, tips, or a short demonstration.

  • Instructing: Instructing should be used just-in-time whenever a significant amount of learning effort is required.  This may include a significant amount of information to be memorized, a difficult understanding to be acquired, a difficult skill to be acquired, including appropriate levels of transfer and automatization, or a significant attitude change to be made.


Situational Principles

      Considerations for designing the game space

  • Kinds of game mechanics: Core mechanics are most fundamental in accomplishing the goal(s) of the game and should be introduced early and recur frequently. Compound mechanics consist of two or more core mechanics combined by a rule. Peripheral mechanics are optional or non-vital.  Decisions about each of these kinds of mechanics will vary depending on situational variables for each game.

  • Parts of the game environment: The game environment consists of structure (discrete or continuous), dimensionality (linear, rectilinear, 2D, or 3D), perspective (the player’s view), physics (how objects move), and time (real, compressed, extended, or variable). Decisions on each of these parts will vary depending on situational variables for each game.

  • Kinds of information: Information about avatars, objects, events, the environment, and the system may be more or less accessible to the player depending on authenticity, level of difficulty, and cognitive load. 

      Considerations for designing the instructional space

  • Kinds of adjusting: Difficulty adjustment may involve sequencing cases from easier to more difficult, or dynamically adjusting difficulty based on the learner’s current zone of proximal development. Artificial prompts and automated task performance are alternative adjustments that may be used to scaffold the learner toward the desired performance.

  • Kinds of coaching: Coaching can take the form of providing information, providing a hint or tip, or providing an understanding. It is typically provided when the learner just needs a little help to perform a part of his/her role.

  • Timing of support: Instructional support may be provided to the player “just in time,” or it can be triggered by certain player actions, or the player can request it at any time.

  • Kinds of learning and appropriate instructional strategies: Different kinds of learning, such as memorization, skills, understanding, and attitudes and values, require different instructional and assessment strategies. 

                                                                                                                                                                                       –  C.M.R., B.J.B & R.D.M.

Instructional-Design Theories and Models: Volume IV, The Learner-Centered Paradigm of Education

Edited by Charles M. Reigeluth, Brian J. Beatty & Rodney D. Myers       2017

Photo of Vol4.jpg
bottom of page