Other Ways to Inspire Change

What interests me most about learning is its potential to inspire change: ideally a measurable change in behavior, but barring that, at least a shift in attitude or understanding.

Very often, we decide we want something to change, we decide to create a course, lesson, document, or some other package of information that learners will absorb and, voila, change!

What if, though, in many cases it’s not actually a lack of information that’s preventing learners from doing things differently?

A couple of weeks ago, I was pondering how to create educational games that allow learners to practice avoiding common advertising tricks. I had hit a wall after play testing several game prototypes. Simultaneously, I was also lamenting the existence of holiday gifts, and how much pressure there is to buy meaningful gifts for an ever-widening circle of receivers within a commercial sea of expensive candles and scented lotions.

That was the moment of inspiration for Gift Instead, my latest project.

What if, instead of trying to teach about advertising, we just gave people tools to opt out of the whole purchase-more-oriented system – well, at least for giving and receiving holiday gifts this year?

Gift Instead is a web site that lets users create, customize, and share purchase-free gift lists. Users can explore prewritten ideas for purchase-free gifts, but they can also create their own.


My awesome husband Brian did most of the heavy lifting with piecing together a framework for the site and was my brainstorming partner in making this project come alive.

I’m really excited about the site we created. It’s still officially in beta mode, but it’s a very functional beta: please feel free to try your hand at creating and sharing a wish list and do send me any feedback about your experience.

I’ll probably revisit the idea of educational games about advertising schemes in the future. However, I really enjoyed working on another potential path into that same sort of change – less needless stuff purchased – by creating a tool rather than a packaged educational experience.


Games that Embody an Emotional Experience

As part of a project-in-progress, I’ve been gathering examples of various types of serious games.

As a start, here is an informal list of games whose purpose seems less about uncovering a winning strategy and more about embodying a particular emotional experience. All of the games listed below are available online to play for free.

To me, what makes many of these games powerful (and at times, heartbreaking) is that you have to step into the role of a struggling person and make difficult decisions.



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Papers Please


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Often, the most impactful moment is seeing the options and choices that you aren’t given. In Depression Quest, this is done explicitly; while you see the decisions that someone who wasn’t depressed might make, you can’t actually select them.

Depression Quest


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Some other games are less about real world decisions and instead abstract representations of difficult situations.



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Finally, even though some might not classify it as a game, I found Dys4ia a very powerful interactive story-telling mechanism that was focused on a particular individual’s story.



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What other games have you seen that focus less on strategy and more on emotionally evocative experiences?

Imperfect Simulations

I just killed humanity. Oops.

In Pandemic 2, your goal is to evolve and spread your disease to wipe out humanity.

Even without a background in pathology or microbiology, I can assert with confidence that the game isn’t an exceptionally precise simulation of a global pandemic.

However, as I played this game, I kept coming back to Jesse Schell’s idea that imperfect simulations can actually be more useful teaching tools than perfect ones, because of the questions they spark about gameplay versus reality. Through this game, you explore the concepts of how pathogens spread and evolve and how various public health measures can attempt to stop the spread. The key to using this game for educational purposes might just be an effective debrief.

Less interested in wiping out humanity and more interested in just exploring viruses and bacteria? Filament Games has more focused (and less sinister) game for students, You Make Me Sick, where you take on the role of a pathogen to infect just one person.

New eLearning Global Giveback Course: Isoniazid Preventive Therapy for the Prevention of Tuberculosis in People Living with HIV

My son, Theo, was born two weeks ago, so I won’t be at the Learning Solutions Conference this week. However, a course I developed with FHI 360 is going to be demoed there on Thursday evening as part of the third eLearning Global Giveback.

This course is designed to give health care workers hands-on practice identifying when and how an Isoniazid Preventive Therapy (IPT) program can be used to help prevent tuberculosis in people living with HIV.

The content for the course is two documents: a set of WHO guidelines and a brief created by FHI 360. I purposefully didn’t try to recreate this material in the course itself, because I felt like the searchable, skimable PDFs were already far better as lasting resources than an online course would be. Instead, I included the documents as downloadable resources and focused the course itself on application of knowledge.

The course is a scenario-based practice space where the user can apply the information from the downloaded documents in similar-to-real-life activities. At a first medical center, the user begins by screening a series of patients to determine whether or not they are good candidates for IPT and another series of patients who are already undergoing IPT to determine if they are exhibiting side effects of the therapy.

Once the user has completed the screening exercise, they address common misconceptions about IPT with some of the staff at this medical center.

The second location is a smaller, more rural clinic. Here the user also screens patients to determine if they are good candidates for IPT, but without access to a screening test for tuberculosis infection.

Throughout the design and development process, the team at FHI 360 provided excellent support and reviews, and I’m really excited about how the course turned out.  If you aren’t able to stop by the Global Giveback reception to demo the course, you can take a peek at the course in my online portfolio. You can also learn more about the eLearning Global Giveback by clicking here!

Interface Inspiration

I’m committed to online learning that is focused on activity, typically of the real-world, application-focused variety.  However, imagining how to translate real-world situations into meaningful learning interfaces for a computer screen can sometimes be daunting. Even in the 21st century, significant portions of our lives still don’t revolve around pointing and clicking.

One strategy I use is keeping an “interface inspiration” library – essentially, a folder on my computer where I keep screenshots of learning interfaces that I think are particularly nifty.  When I get stuck while trying to translate activities into interfaces, I can browse through my collection of screenshots for ideas.

I mentioned this strategy a few weeks ago while presenting as part of an instructional design panel at DevLearn, and the question of WHERE to find these interfaces came up during the Q&A portion of the session.  In a sort of belated cyber answer (yes, I answered in person too), here is a preliminary list of places where I’ve found inspiration for learning interfaces.

The sites below are a mix of learning venders and educational game sites, but all include multiple clickable demos that I found useful. Most of the learning games sites target school-age children, but the interface ideas are absolutely still relevant for learning aimed at adults too.

Allen Interactions

I think that Allen Interactions creates some of the best performance-driven, application-focused eLearning available, and they have a number of courses with amazing interfaces on their web site. You do need to sign up for an account to view their case studies and demos, but it’s quick and free.

Filament Games

Filament Games is my current educational games company crush. The link above goes straight to their large library of games that you can play – the iCivics games are probably my favorites.

Enspire Learning

Enspire Learning is another learning-focused company with some great demonstrations of intuitive yet creative interfaces on their web site. Again, handing over your contact information is required to view the demos.

Doorways-to-Dreams Foundation – Financial Entertainment

I have mixed feelings about casual games for learning, but Doorways-to-Dreams has a good series of financial entertainment games created by several different venders. My favorite for interface ideas is Celebrity Calamity.


EdHeads in a nonprofit organization that designs and develops really neat educational online games focused on science, math, and critical thinking.

Nobel Prize – Educational Games

This section of the official site of the Nobel Prize offers a series of educational games based on Nobel-prize achievements over the years.

In additional to these initial links, I’ll add future updates to the newly created Interface Inspiration page found through the blog menu above.