Our Thinking

Learning Games and Simulations: Getting Started

Luke Kempski

I know many training leaders who have developed strong workflows to produce valuable e-Learning courses for their organizations. They have built teams, processes and infrastructure to deliver consistent, quality courses that meet standards and learner expectations. That workflow has also been essential to them meeting productivity goals, deadlines and budgets.

The challenge for training leaders comes when they want to take a learning experience to a higher degree of interactivity, such as in a learning game or simulation. How can they do this without disrupting the efficient, productive and successful workflow? I’ve seen this dilemma navigated in three ways: scaling up to do it in-house, outsourcing the development or taking a partner approach.


If your first game or simulation is a small-scale project or a segment of a course, you may want to tackle it in-house. You’ll want it to be a lower risk subject and have a relatively flexible timeline. The benefits of doing it in-house are that you build the skills of your team, and you keep the budget low. In-house development may also present challenges with software limitations, workflow disruption, extended timelines and potentially disappointing results. In my experience, you always need at least one team member with experience in any new type of project. Having an instructional designer, graphic designer or developer who has worked on a game or simulation before will help everyone on the team. If you don’t have one, you need to consider hiring a new employee, contractor or freelancer.


If your first game or simulation addresses mission critical objectives and needs to be distributed at a fixed time, you probably want to outsource it. By selecting an experienced vendor, you should be hiring the expertise, software and capacity to do the entire project on-time. This approach will also be less disruptive to your workflow. On the downside, it will require a larger budget, and your in-house team will not gain the experience. They may also be disappointed. By overseeing the vendor though, your department will still gain some experience and earn the credit of delivering an advanced learning application for the organization.


If your first game or simulation is not quite mission critical, has an adequate timeline, and you have some team members with limited experience, you can consider a partner approach. Here, your internal team and the vendor firm work together to develop the advanced learning application. You will need to clearly define roles and responsibilities, and you’ll want your internal players to be motivated, knowledgeable and good at working in teams. You’ll also want to be prepared for more challenging project management and a longer timeline with the partner approach. By engaging in the design and development, your team will grow their skills and have a greater sense of ownership. You also can reduce the external budget and may be able to make future maintenance changes without the vendor.

Of course there are other considerations when adding more advanced learning experiences, such as games and simulations, to your e-Learning mix. You’ll want to balance what you can do now with where you want to be in the future as you make decisions. The in-house, outsource or partnership framework should help get you started.

You can learn more about the skills, processes and infrastructure required to develop more advanced learning experiences at theLearning and Entertainment Evolution Forum – LEEF 2010, on June 17-18 at Harrisburg University.

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