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4 Lenses To Bring E-Learning Instructional Design Into Focus: Part 4 - Gamification

This article concludes the series by looking at CCAF from the perspective of key considerations in developing online training. Previous entries have examined the model in terms of interactivity, adult learning principles, and interactivity. Here we discuss the CCAF approach in terms of how it naturally supports game design principles.

Part 1 | Part 2 Part 3 

First, a quick review of CCAF

This interactive learning design approach, first published in Michael Allen’s Guide to eLearning, defines instructional interactivity with four essential elements: Context, Challenge, Activity, and Feedback. Context provides meaning and relevance; Challenge engages the learner’s emotions and creates a sense of intention; Activity inserts meaningful and memorable gestures for the learner to apply; Feedback provides consequences and corrective information to help the learner improve performance. Following the CCAF Model as a design framework for learning provides a reliable process to improve and elevate the kind of teaching interactions that will create lasting and meaningful change.

CCAF e-Learning Instructional Design Model: 4 Components

Game design principles

Online games are a constant basis of comparison for e-learning. People will play online games eagerly and endlessly, while online training is often avoided are done without interest. It is natural that many ask, “Why can’t our e-learning be built to have that same appeal?”

Well, the answer is that IT CAN! Too often, though, e-learning designers apply superficial game aspects (avatars, board game metaphors, points) and still create unengaging and uninspired modules.

Instead, designers need to grasp the elements that actually create that feeling of gaming.  Karl Kapp presents a thorough definition of Games in his excellent book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction:

“A game is a system in which players engage in an abstract challenge, defined by rules, interactivity, and feedback, that results in a quantifiable outcome often eliciting an emotional reaction.” 


This definition is packed with meaning, thoroughly capturing the required elements of a meaningful game. Additionally, it is interesting how much it shares with our definition of instructional interactivity.

Understanding the difference between instructional and traditional games

 Blog Graphics (1)Designing games is a full discipline in itself, and organizations that build commercial games generally have far more resources and greater technical support than most training organizations. So e-learning games often turn out trivial and unengaging.

But applying CCAF design principles will always push your design in the direction of a game-like experience. Our best learning games were achieved, not by setting out to create a game, but rather by intending to create a fully CCAF-based interaction.




Award-winning example: Operation Lifesaver

For example, we were engaged by Operation Lifesaver to create online training for school bus drivers; the primary objective was to reduce accidents at rail crossings. Applying CCAF, we created a simulated environment where the learner had to safely maneuver a bus load of children across various rail crossings.

Truck drivers, school bus drivers, first responders, and many other CDL vehicle drivers are able to make on-the-spot decisions regarding safety without consequences. This e-learning training course has increased the performance of many drivers, increased safety levels, and saved many lives. 

This course has been recognized by industry peers, earning both a Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning – Best Custom Content Gold Award as well as an International Gold Davey Award. While the ultimate success of this training may be measured by demonstrating a reduction in the number of incidents and accidents at railroad crossings, we believe even a single life saved because of the training is a success.

CCAF in Operation Lifesaver

The context was the driver’s seat of a bus on the road (basically identical to the real-world performance setting). The challenge was to cross various rail crossings without accident or breaking any traffic laws in a reasonable amount of time. The activity included all the gestures and options available to the driver of a standard school bus. The feedback was a combination of intrinsic elements (the aftermath of a crash, a ticket from a police officer) and a report card confirming executed elements. When chained together, this series of “questions” created an irresistible learning experience.

Why this learning is effective:

Through a series of realistic scenarios, learners are given the opportunity to practice the potentially life-saving techniques of:

  • Analyzing and making correct decisions at railroad crossings
  • Identifying and taking actions based on the meaning of signs and signals at highway-rail grade crossings
  • Recognizing and responding appropriately to potential dangers
  • Taking correct safety measures if outside the truck while near a railroad crossing


By using CCAF to create a realistic scenario that allows the learner to experiment with critical decision-making, they have the opportunity to learn, experiment, and apply their training in a safe environment that supports growth. Practice makes for better, safer on-the-job application and increased community safety near rail crossings.

Put it into practice

I encourage you to explore the theoretical aspects of game design, but remember that you can also move your designs in that direction by applying a four practical principles that come from CCAF:

  1. Keep pre-text to a minimum. Get the learner into doing something as quickly as possible.
  2. Create graduated challenges with reasonable risk. There should be a good chance that the learner will fail at first, but with practice will move on to slightly more difficult levels.
  3. Create a compelling game space; include storytelling. Use imagery and stories to create a believable and engaging context.
  4. Make sure the learner is active. Minimize downtime, and always have a meaningful, intentional action for the learner to execute.

So don’t be intimidated by the idea of designing a game. Start by applying CCAF design principles as you craft interactivity and you will be naturally led in the direction of interactions that share important qualities with the most engaging games.


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About Author

Ethan Edwards
Ethan Edwards

Ethan Edwards draws from more than 30 years of industry experience as an elearning instructional designer and developer. He is responsible for the delivery of the internal and external training and communications that reflect Allen Interactions’ unique perspective on creating Meaningful, Memorable, and Motivational learning solutions backed by the best instructional design and latest technologies.

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