From the first time I ever heard of the concept of using videogames for training, I was intrigued. I just knew that when I found the right project, the right customer, and the right training need, I would be able to offer a game-based training solution that would let me experiment with some novel instructional strategies while simultaneously inspiring all my other customers to ask for game-based training as their first choice. I’m still waiting patiently for that perfect convergence of events.

Even if that day never comes investigating videogames was still worthwhile, because games offer some strong hints about how to provide useful feedback, even in more conventional e-Learning offerings.

People play videogames for many different reasons. We enjoy getting a break from our day-to-day lives, or like the challenge of problem solving, immersing ourselves in a storyline, or enjoying the company of virtual friends working on the same goal. Regardless of the types of games we choose to play, though, feedback is one of the most compelling aspects of any game.

Training professionals usually think of feedback in terms of corrective feedback: a reminder about how to perform a task, or information about why one answer to a question is better than another. Videogames sometimes provide some corrective feedback, too. On-screen hints may advise a player that the rules of the game don’t allow puzzle pieces to move in a particular direction, for example. Corrective feedback can be valuable, helping learners develop strategies about how to approach and understand the subject matter.

But good game designers know that while corrective feedback can be helpful, it’s environmental feedback that allows players to become immersed in the game.

Environmental feedback is a powerful motivator. It can make some pretty routine and repetitive actions a lot more interesting. Consider, for a moment, how long it would be interesting to fire a virtual ball at some other balls of the same color, over and over. Most people wouldn’t last more than a few minutes engaging in that kind of activity.

Add some environmental feedback to the mix, and the landscape changes. Players are still just firing a virtual ball, but the feedback immediately tells them they’re also earning points towards a goal, rewarding them for their progress each step of the way. The total number of points needed and accumulated is displayed at all times. Typically, reminders of the next goal, any liabilities, and any enhanced abilities remain on display for the duration of play.

As an instructional designer, I find it natural to identify the objectives at the start of a module, or to provide corrective feedback during an assessment. But it can be a little harder to remember that meeting the instructional objectives is easier when my interface provides the right amount of environmental feedback.

Learners, like gamers, appreciate knowing where they stand as they work their way through to the next goal. Working on module three may be a hint that they’ve already completed modules one and two, but a couple of checkmarks next to the completed modules is a lot more helpful, especially if there’s a chance the learners might have to return to the training at some later date.

Advance information or persistent information about how long it should take to complete a section of content does double-duty. It gives learners a tool to help them manage their time, and at the same time allows them to measure how their performance compares with expectations.

Finally, the variety of the feedback available at the end of a game makes me wonder whether keeping a simple tally of how many questions a learner answered correctly is the best, or only, way to show mastery of a topic. The statistics videogames display at the end of play reveal something about a player’s strategy as well as how many points they earned before they finished. Of course, those statistics are available because games offer players a number of choices about how they would like to reach their goals.

If you think about it, that’s a nice idea for designing online learning too. Maybe allowing learners to sift through some flashcards on vocabulary could allow them to opt out of some exposition about what the terms mean. Learners who have choices are more likely to be alert and engaged, and more likely to retain the information in your training.

And when you review the reports from the LMS about the choices learners made, you’ll get a clearer picture of your learners’ preferences. Behold, the power of feedback!