Yes, you read that right. I left the fun and frolics of the games industry for a career in digital learning. Why? Because, surprisingly, it’s not such a great leap after all. Many of the skills required are transferrable, and, most importantly, the learning industry needs games developers, probably more than it knows.

In my years as a games developer, I worked on projects where I blew up millions of aliens, explored countless dungeons and navigated spaceships through the galaxy at warp speed. Additionally, some of the projects I worked on were for the educational sector and focused on games-based learning. These projects demonstrated the link between good game design and engaging players in learning something new.

When I applied for an e-learning developer position in 2014, I could see the potential for my skill set to be a great fit with creating engaging digital learning. Thankfully, the hiring managers agreed with me.

Embracing Change

One key aspect of the games industry is the drive to be original and innovative, with an eager audience frothing over the newest bit of tech. Re-treading old, tried and tested ideas is anathema to gamers, so the drive to create new solutions and engaging experiences is paramount to success.

In the learning industry, it’s not quite the same: Read this slide, click “Next” and then complete the quiz to check your understanding. It’s safe, simple and a tad dull. Consequently, employees saw e-learning as one of those have-to” activities, a tick-box exercise where they rolled up their sleeves, endured and moved on as soon as possible.

I wanted to transform learning into a “want-to” activity that learners enjoyed and wanted to return to. By adding elements of game thinking to solutions, we could increase engagement, re-playability, immersion and the desire to achieve mastery of a given topic, the same way you would want to beat a difficult level of your favorite game.

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got” (Albert Einstein).

As a games developer, I was used to coding a solution from the ground up, so I had free rein to create dynamic experiences with as much game juice as I could muster.

As a learning developer, I had the industry-standard authoring tools instead. My first project was to see if I could make a game using Articulate Storyline. As a new employee, I was keen to impress, so I made not one but four. Working within limitations is always a boon to creativity, and using an unfamiliar tool with a fresh perspective meant I was able to experiment, break the rules and make something new. The prototypes I created went on to be showcased at industry events and even used by Articulate guru Tom Kuhlmann.

The hot topic in 2014 was gamification. I found myself in the right place at the right time, and I received the title of games evangelist. Our leaders encouraged me to promote game thinking to our learning designers and investigate new ways to engage learners using new tools and technologies. Where existing authoring tools had limitations, we sought ways to augment and improve them by adding functionality from game engines so we could have the best of both worlds. Slowly but surely, the engagement provided by tapping into games is becoming part of the norm.

The biggest obstacle to progress isn’t the technology; it’s the initial reluctance many have to trying something new. Luckily, there are people in workplace learning who are willing to explore the brave new world of learning games, and each successful project is a further demonstration of how potent and immersive games are.

The learner audience is open to gaming, used to modern web experiences and therefore ready to try something new. It’s our job as learning professionals to make sure we deliver it.