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What eLearning Can Borrow from Game Design - Part 2

I wrote this article for the November 2023 Evolve Insights newsletter: https://evolve-sg.com/what-elearning-can-borrow-from-game-design-part-2/


Harnessing the Power of Story, Dialogue, Empathy, and Consequence in Training & Development


In Part 1 of “What eLearning Can Borrow From Game Design” I discussed ways you can elevate your eLearning courses with Game Design and UX techniques.

In this article I’ll explore how storytelling, dialogue, roleplay, and consequence are fundamental elements of game design that captivate players, increasing immersion and investment in game play. Training developers can (and should) learn from how these elements are used to create emotionally engaging and memorable learning experiences.


Let’s review a few common design elements that training and eLearning design can borrow from game design strategies.

Compelling Storytelling and Scenarios

Games often feature intricate storylines that transport players to different worlds, challenges, and even into the mind of a different person. In training development, weaving compelling narratives around the subject matter can make complex concepts more relatable and accessible to learners. By incorporating scenarios and real-life examples, learners can see the practical applications of their knowledge, fostering a deeper understanding and creating opportunities for emotional investment.


For example, in training for investment professionals, a compelling storytelling approach can be woven into the course. They could follow a narrative about Jennifer, a new employee who discovers a discrepancy in customer accounts. As the course unfolds, the employee unlocks more clues, identifying risk factors or problems to look out for. Learners would get insights into the procedures, analysis techniques, and ways of thinking which can help them understand the significance of diligence and precision in their roles.


Another example might be incorporating real-life scenarios in healthcare training. For instance, depicting a day in the life of hospital nurse Michael, who navigates diverse patient situations which aren’t always what they seem, can offer learners a tangible perspective on patient care, medication protocols, and emergency responses beyond text-book procedures.

Interactive Dialogue & Decision-making

In training development, interactive dialogue can be used to create dynamic conversations, allowing learners to engage in simulated scenarios. By presenting learners with decision-making opportunities, training programs encourage critical thinking and the development of problem-solving skills. Through interactive dialogue, learners can practice new skills, such as negotiation or conflict resolution, in a safe and supportive environment, preparing them for actual challenges they may encounter.


For example, customer service training could benefit from interactive dialogues that mimic real-world situations. A potential branching scenario might involve a conversation between a representative and an irate customer. Learners can decide the representative’s responses at various junctions, experiencing firsthand the impact of their communication choices. A common pitfall, however, would be to design answer options that are too obvious – which can break learners’ immersion in their training, causing boredom, and worse, potentially insulting the intelligence of employees. To avoid this, use a ‘good, better, best’ model in your response options.


Another example of this may be manufacturing, warehouse, or field-work focused courses which introduce dialogues around safety protocols and best practices. One such scenario could involve a conversation between a floor supervisor and a worker discussing a potential safety violation. As learners navigate the branched conversation, they can decide on the best course of action, understanding the implications of each choice in a real-world manufacturing setting. Using feedback to describe the consequences of alternate options provides a greater view into how their actions may affect positive or negative outcomes.

Roleplay For Teamwork and Empathy Building

To better understand someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Roleplay is a powerful technique used in games to immerse players and allow them to assume different identities. In training, roleplay can help create empathy for partner positions, reinforce team-based efforts and mentality, and synchronize efforts toward a brand-conscious attitude. A role-playing example to foster cross-team empathy and teamwork may put employees in the shoes of other roles to better understand their value, challenges, and how roles might better support one another.


An example of this in a hospitality setting may look like an eLearning activity which showcases a day in the life of hotel cleaning staff. By emphasizing the physical demands and shedding light on the often unseen behind-the-scenes efforts, front office staff and managers can roleplay and understand the challenges faced by the housekeeping department. One might make this experience even more engaging by implementing a game-based point system, where the player is shown various areas in need of attention or cleaning, giving the opportunity to gain points when those areas are addressed. At the end, showing which areas were missed and how many points could have been achieved, provides further reinforcement of desired behaviors, and encourages team effort to maintain cleanliness of the facility.

Emotional Engagement and Empathy

Games often evoke emotions in players, leading to heightened engagement and a more memorable experience. In training development, eliciting emotional responses through storytelling and roleplay can make the learning journey more impactful. By fostering empathy and emotional investment, learners

become more connected to the content, increasing their motivation to learn and apply their newfound skills.

For customer service training, especially in healthcare, insurance, or social services, instructional designers might consider integrating simulation-based training modules that focus on the emotional and empathetic aspect of customer service. Learners could step into the shoes of service representatives handling emotionally charged situations, fostering empathy for customers, and understanding their concerns. Basing character stories on real-life examples, complete with painful and heart-wrenching details, brings realism to the experience while the empathic response creates stronger neural connections, increasing retention and behavior change.

Create Meaningful Feedback Loops Through Consequence and Feedback


In games, the consequences of players’ actions are directly linked to the game’s progression. Similarly, in training development, creating meaningful feedback loops based on learners’ choices and performance can drive continuous improvement. By providing tailored feedback and opportunities for reflection, learners can understand the implications of their decisions and adjust their approach accordingly.


Automotive companies might look at providing simulation-based training on vehicle maintenance. After learners diagnose car issues in a virtual scenario, they would receive detailed feedback on their diagnosis. This feedback loop would highlight areas they excelled in and where they might need further training, ensuring continuous improvement.


Leadership training may utilize this strategy in conjunction with interactive dialogue and roleplay to provide a powerful experience where leaders in training receive feedback on their responses in the form of the consequences of their choices. In one scenario, if they decide to brush off or delay an employee’s request for increased responsibility or learning opportunities, they find that the employee leaves the organization and they now need to fill the empty role and retrain a new employee, delaying projects. Whereas if they comply with the employee’s request, they are then required to find other resources to handle tasks the employee no longer has time to complete due to their new responsibilities. Making choices and consequences as realistic as possible ensures that the immersion and investment in the outcome is maintained.

Storytelling, dialogue, and roleplay are powerful tools that game design employs to engage players and create immersive experiences. By integrating these elements into learning and development, educators can forge emotional connections between learners and the subject matter. Compelling narratives, interactive dialogue, roleplay, branching, consequences, and feedback all contribute to a more profound understanding of the content and a heightened sense of ownership over the learning process. Through the innovative application of these game-inspired techniques, training developers can transform traditional learning into a transformative and empowering experience.

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