Learner Experience DesignDynamic Difficulty in Game-Based E-Learning

March 25, 2017by Reva McPollom0

Gamification, personalization and adaptive learning are concepts that are today familiar to most learning professionals. But there’s another important concept related to these that often goes unmentioned. It’s called dynamic difficulty. Dynamic difficulty (also called dynamic difficulty adjustment or DDA) is an important concept in the world of game mechanics, but likely one you’ve never heard of. Simply put, dynamic difficulty is the ability of a game to adapt to the skill level of an individual user. E-learning with dynamic difficulty features track the user’s performance and constantly adjust to ensure that the user is being challenged but not overwhelmed. This allows users who fall behind to catch up without frustration, and those who are ahead to do so without restriction.

Why Dynamic Difficulty is Important

Think about it: how many times will you attempt an overly difficult task before giving up in frustration? If you’ve tried your best many times over without success, are you going to want to try again, let alone learn anything? Conversely, what about being forced to endure a lesson just isn’t challenging? You know the material already, but you’re forced to click through information you’ve seen and heard before. These kinds of negative experiences lead to frustration, boredom and disengagement. We all know the negative impact disengagement has on learning.

The onus is on you, as the designer, to get the difficulty curve just right. This is where dynamic difficulty comes in. By dynamically adjusting the difficulty level based on the performance of the user, e-learning with dynamic difficulty game mechanics offer a personalized learning experience that keeps users engaged and challenged without risking boredom or frustration.

Other Difficulty Management Options

There are several other approaches you can take to address difficulty. One common approach is a set of discrete difficulties that users can pick from upon beginning an e-learning game or course. You might be familiar with the standard choices of “Easy”, “Medium” and “Hard”. Imagine, for example, that you’re trying to teach a language. Students who already have some fluency can pick “Hard” and skip introductory modules, while those completely new to the language can select “Easy” and begin with the basics. A simpler alternative is to enable a “Skip” feature that allows users to determine their own pace and skip modules.

But there are inherent limitations with these approaches. Letting users choose their own pace requires them to objectively gauge their own familiarity with the topic. When allowed to do this, it’s not uncommon for users to overestimate themselves. And adding a “Skip” feature makes it easy for users to skip ahead too quickly and find themselves out of their depth. Dynamic difficulty solves inherent problems introduced by both of these systems. By taking the choice out of the equation and relying purely on hard performance data, dynamic difficulty ensures all learners will be at just the right difficulty level for their needs.

Enabling Dynamic Difficulty in Your E-Learning Program

Although applying dynamic difficulty game mechanics adds to the work involved in creating e-learning, its impact on outcomes may justify the effort. Perfectly calibrated, self-adjusting difficulty adds great value. From the user’s point of view, it will seem that the resource is perfectly tailored to them, allowing them to remain immersed and engaged throughout.

Achieving this ideal result is a difficult task without extensive experience in e-learning. Fortunately, there are experts on hand to help: Reva Digital designs and creates custom e-learning solutions for corporations and schools. To find out how your organization can benefit from e-learning, get in touch with Reva Digital today.

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