OnBoarding, Tutorials and Learning by Doing

For me one of the most effective uses of gamification that I see in education (at the moment) is the inclusion of things like onboarding and tutorials.

When I was young, games came with manuals that you could knock a donkey out with. They had all the instructions, keyboard overlays, back stories and more! It could take a day just to read them, let alone start to play.  Who can forget the microscopic space fleet that came with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

I sometimes wonder if a lot of this was acceptable to us because of how long games took to load. Ah, the joyous sounds of the Commodore 64 loading – not to mention the amazing music you used to get (Ocean Loader v4 being my favourite – sad I know!).

These days you don’t get any of that. Now all you get is a single page that explains the story in a short paragraph and the buttons you need to play. The rest is handled by an onboarding process.

Onboarding in this case refers to the step by step “hand holding” that takes place. The game teaches you how to play, by letting you practice in a controlled and safe manner. Learning how to move first, then how to shoot, and then jump etc. Once you have nailed the basics, you are then equipped to play the real game. Often more complex games will have extra tutorials to learn the more difficult aspects of the game as well, giving you the chance to learn at your own pace, whilst still being able to play.

Not only is this a more enjoyable way to learn how to play the game, it allows for several things. First, it allows the story to be told from the beginning, setting you up for the main game. It also helps you remember more. Many people learn faster when they are actually doing the thing they are learning. Also there is a greater sense of achievement from learning these actions as you do them rather than just reading about them.

In education this can be replicated with ease. Rather than asking children to read about their numbers, teachers have them count coins or blocks. They can see and feel the counting and the maths.  There are serious games, such as Microsoft’s “Ribbon Hero 2” which make great use of this hand holding and learning by doing approach. This is a game that was produced to help people learn Microsoft office. The entire game is one on-boarding tutorial, as you help Clippy find his way through time back to the present day. Every level has you using functionality from the Office product – learning by doing.

Breaking things up and having people learn by doing is definitely one of the greatest lessons I can see from video games for us to use. You don’t need points and badges for it to work. People are motivated by the experience if it is built well.  They get continuous feelings of achievement as they learn and master new skills. However, everything has to be meaningful and relevant. There is no point just throwing animations are a learning “game” that the learner has no control over, or giving them choices that have no meaning or effect on the rest of the experience. The will not thank you for making a five minute tutorial into a thirty minute yawn fest that they can’t skip!

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