Serious Games has only recently emerged as a result of a combination of the popularity and engaging qualities of computer games and the development of affordable broadband communications, wireless connectivity and 3D imaging and rendering technologies. Serious Games or Games Based Learning (GBL) leverage the power of computer games technologies and methodologies to captivate and engage end-users for a specific purpose such as to develop new knowledge and skills. Electronic games of all types have, from the beginning, helped to develop motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination, spatial awareness, memory and lateral thinking, but their use and evaluation for specific learning tasks is relatively new and are stimulating further research on their role in education. Serious Games can also enable learners to undertake tasks and experience situations which would otherwise be impossible and undesirable for cost, time, logistical and safety reasons. Flight simulators, business games, health and safety simulations and military exercises make good examples in this direction.
Serious Games and Learning Management Systems
Serious Games applications can be categorised for the purpose of Learning Management Systems as follows :-
• Edutainment quiz games (e.g. “Who want to be a millionaire”)
• Single player task-based simulations with decision trees
• Single player role playing simulations in persistent virtual scenarios
• Multi player task based simulations (non-persistent)
• Multi player role playing simulations in persistent virtual worlds
Amongst the challenges of developing commercial serious games e-learning applications are :-
• Prohibitive development costs
• Cost and difficulty of customisation
• Working with subject matter experts with limited knowledge of gaming pedagogy
• User expectations
• SCORM compliance and links to LMS
All of these issues significantly affect the cost effectiveness of e-learning and developer sustainability.
Serious games development approach
Flash application development
After evaluating a range of avenues, Pixelearning’s approach to development has become based around the use of Adobe Flash as a platform to provide visual appeal, interactivity, productivity and a robust interface. They are also currently exploring building a learning platform known as “learning beans” to enable subject matter experts to create their own customised solutions. The strategy of using Flash as a development environment has been strongly influenced by the fact that in the corporate environment, there are often very strong IT policies in place which restrict the use of downloads and pug-ins for browser based learning applications. Since Flash is probably the most universal browser tool on the market, Pixel decided it offered the greatest potential for the corporate market.
Pixel’s business games are simulations based on user role playing and the main issue with integration into LMS is not a technical one, but a cost issue for some of the reasons previously outlined.
e-Learning professionals used to linear systems with standards based compliance and integration into LMS find the additional cost and complexity of designing a games-based approach to user engagement and effective learning outcomes a major barrier, which will only be overcome by :-
• Education and awareness of games based pedagogical outcomes
• More reliable data on the cost effectiveness of games-based learning
• Developer productivity tools to reduce costs and improve communication with the client
Since serious games is still an emerging market yet to be fully embraced by learning professionals, its’ full potential make take some time to realise.
3D immersive customised environments
Web 2.0 has had a major impact on creativity and self-publishing accessibility. Through blogs, mash-ups, widgets and a plethora of tools, subject matter experts are able to transfer, exchange and develop new knowledge in a variety of ways.
Caspian Learning’s global leaders in the use of simulations and games to solve learning issues) “Thinking Minds” (Caspian’s educational games player and authoring suite, that allows people of all ages to play, edit and create their own 3D learning games) and Immersive Education’s (UK based educational software publisher) “Mediastage”, the virtual 3D performance tool are attempts at creating a development platform that can be used by teachers in primary and secondary education to set up their own customised learning experiences for and with their students in 3D immersive environments.
The benefit of this approach is the creation of a set of elearning tools and methodologies that can be used by subject matter experts to create their own serious games learning applications. This reduces development costs, increases flexibility and opens up partnership opportunities. This approach undoubtedly reduces development costs and opens up opportunities for more “teacher-led” personalised training. It can also support SCORM compliance through the use of built-in learning objects which are compliant. The 3D games environment developed by Caspian and Immersive Education do provide a great deal of flexibility, stimulate creativity and are very cost effective for the K-12 market place, but are difficult to integrate easily into LMS.
Looking to future
Developers will continue to address the issues of demanding customers, low budgets, short timescales and high aspirations. The three approaches outlined illustrate how the emerging serious games industry is seeking to harness the potential of gaming technology to provide a richer experience and greater learner engagement whilst managing the issues of standards compliance, content management and integration with Learning Management Systems.
Since, in this emerging market, there is currently little reliable evidence to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of serious games for e-learning, developers will continue to strive to reduce development costs, educate clients and provide good customisation tools in order to develop the full market potential. However, as far as content management and standards compliance are concerned, there may be insurmountable barriers to the evaluation of the “soft” and intangible benefits of serious games and new approaches to such evaluation may be necessary.
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