Red herrings to lead them in the right direction

Yes, I know that a red herring is something that misleads or distracts from relevant or important information. Well, normally that's what it means, but today I was playing the game app Red Herring and it lead me to something.

A little background first, in case you've never played the game. The point of the game is to categorize a series of words correctly. Each round of the game starts with sixteen word tiles in four columns. You drag and drop the word tiles until you end up with the correct twelve tiles lined up in the first three columns, each of which is a category. The remaining four tiles line up at the far right column, uncategorized. There are often words that appear to work under two of the categories and, the extra four words serve as red herrings.

It is a simple game to learn but what captured my attention as I continue my quest to deconstruct games and figure out new ways to apply game concepts to learning events was the three levels of difficulty. Each round offers you the opportunity to choose Easy, Normal or Hard. If you choose Easy, you are given the three categories atop the first three columns and you just have to figure out which words go there. If you choose Normal, you aren't given the categories but you are given three of the four tiles in place in the first column and two in the second to start with. Finally, in the Hard option you are not given any of the categories or any of the correct tiles.

This got me to thinking that this is a format that could work well in many lessons to serve learners at different levels, and to let learners challenge themselves in a low-stress environment, where they could get hints when needed. There would not necessarily be a lot of extra development time to the instructional design. You would just look for opportunities to give the learner an option to try the easier or harder path. This could even provide a nice assessment tool. How many levels of the content can a learner get through at the Hard level without having to use a hint. Which levels (or content) give learners the most difficulty. Maybe the content's presentation needs to be reworked.

I highly recommend to any participants in my gamification workshops that they play games to get ideas. What games have you played lately? And have they given you any insights or ideas that you have applied to learning? I'd love to hear about it.

Also, I'll be one of the presenters at the eLearning Guild's Focus on Learning's new series of sessions called Deconstructing Games. If you'll be at the conference, stop by and say hi. If you need a speaker for your event, give me a holler.

(Image based on “Red Herring @ High Street, Lowestoft” by Tim Parkinson is licensed under CC BY 2.0)