Why use Escape Games in learning contexts?

Photo of tabletop escape game setupYou’ve probably heard of Escape Rooms – where small groups of people are “locked” in a physical room and have to solve a series of puzzles to escape. You can find them all over the world. Escape games are a development, where you’re not actually locked in a room. They often involve tabletop boxes and locks with associated puzzles and a goal which may be more sophisticated than simply “escaping”.

You could say that a course is an escape game – the students want to pass the exam… finish the coursework…. but that’s not really the point!

So what are the elements of escape games that make them engaging and how can we apply these to the design of learning activities?

  • Immersive
  • Narrative-based
  • Strong setting and theme
  • Collaboration
  • Goal-oriented
  • Puzzle elements

Escape games can be used to assess learners’ recall, understanding or even application. However, educational escape games also have different needs from Escape Rooms:

  • Learning outcomes require external knowledge (an Escape room should not require knowledge of anything that isn’t in the room)
  • Often used to teach soft skills (such as for team building)
  • It can be subject-specific (used for assessment, even)
  • It must be scalable & mobile (we’re aiming at 30, 100, 300, 600 students, not a small group of 6 at a time) Unfortunately, the potential cost of this scalability is not inconsiderable, even when coupled with using digital clues on mobile apps, and this can lead to game design decisions that reduce both the learning impact, and the students’ enjoyment of the activity.
  • Debrief/reflection is essential – it’s not just “we escaped”! but worth some debrief to consolidate the learning
  • Learning needs a higher chance of success: we don’t really want learners to fail
  • Usually a goal but not an escape!


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