Advancing the e-learning experience by using 3D game design techniques

Imagine a fully immersive virtual environment created for a safety training product, for example. If this environment is presented to the learner using techniques similar to those used to create a game’s 3D environment, would they not find the experience closer to the real situation and would it not leave a more lasting impression?

To further examine the safety example we can look at a situation where the learner is being trained in how to work safely on the roof of a building. The learner would view the location from a first-person perspective and would be able to move freely around the roof, study the environment and identify potential hazards. Using ambient sounds and effects would add more realism to the experience and allow the inclusion of aural hazards, such as sounds of machinery or nesting birds on the roof. The learner would be guided along by an artificially intelligent trainer, in the form of a 3D character, who would not only respond to questions but also react to the learner’s behaviour within the training environment. For example, the learner should not approach closer than two metres to the ungraded edge of the roof; if they did the trainer would call out with a warning then proceed to give an explanation of the correct regulation once they had the learner’s attention.

Recently there have been vast advancements in computer and video games but at the same time these advancements have, by their nature, made the games more complicated. This has created a new hurdle for game designers – how to provide guidance for a new player that is enjoyable and involving enough to keep them interested in playing the rest of the game.

Previously, when game tutorials were first introduced, they were often bolted on as separate modules to the actual game itself; they were basic and often tedious. A player was given the option to play through the tutorial or to skip it completely and start playing the game straight away. For seasoned game players skipping the tutorial was not a major issue but for more casual players this often resulted in them finding the game too daunting and not understanding how to progress, causing them to lose interest.

The solution developers came up with in more recent games was to integrate the tutorial directly into the game which also served as an interactive introduction. This new form of tutorial was designed to integrate in such a way as to make the new player unaware that they were even being taken through a tutorial. It was a gentle and more immersive start to the game which guided the user into understanding how to play the game without detaching them from the game itself. Using in-game interaction to guide the user through the basics made the learning process more effective as well as more enjoyable.

Learning new information is always easier when it is presented in an interactive and fun format; therefore modern e-learning courses tend to look more like computer games than training manuals. If the ultimate goal of an e-learning product is to leave the learner with a full understanding of the subject and for the information to be memorable, isn’t developing more realistic and immersive learning environments and experiences a natural evolution for the future of e-learning?

Please share your views on the subject. What else can e-learning designers learn from game designers and what dangers might occur from making an e-learning course more like a computer game?