The use of games in adult education is nothing new. Today, andragogues spare no effort to optimise teaching conditions, methods and materials to promote learning by training course and workshop participants. For this purpose, they also use many kinds of games, be it quizzes, simulations, and even board and computer games. In the future, escape rooms may be added to the list. They first appeared on the Polish market five years ago and today around one thousand of such venues operate throughout the country.
Escape room, or the room of puzzles and riddles
An Escape room, also known as escape game, is a physical adventure taking place in a fictional location imitating real-life conditions designed for teams composed of tree to ten players. The players are locked in the room, which they must escape within set time-limit. In order to find the key to the door and win the game, they must solve a number of puzzles and perform tasks, which require displaying general knowledge, powers of observation and logical thinking. Players also need to make swift associations and cooperate as a team.
In escape rooms, adult learners can acquire effective communication, cooperation, leadership, decision making, and cause-effect thinking skills. On top of that, they can practice racing against time. Escape rooms can also be used as a diagnostic tool. During a game, you can observe the roles adopted by individual participants, see how they cooperate and communicate, and notice which of their actions and adopted strategies are effective and which do not work. You can also see if they manage themselves and their time in a productive manner and how they cope in stressful environment.
Designing educational experience in an escape room requires from an andragogue attention, reflection, commitment and patience. First of all, it is important to clearly define the overall objective of the game and specific goals, i.e. answering the question what declarative and procedural knowledge and what soft skills should game participants gain from participation. It is also worth defining the target group, for which the game is being designed and in particular the size of the team, as well as the age, level of education and expected level of knowledge, soft skills and competences of prospective players.
Another important step is to make an informed choice of the method of organising tasks and riddles in the escape room. They can take the form of open tasks, where players solve puzzles in any order, and each of them forms a part of a broader meta-puzzle, solving which leads you to the win. The game in this type of the room will be composed of two events: entering the room and completing the game. Another form of an escape room organisation is putting the tasks in a sequential order, which calls on the players to solve puzzles in a specific order. The most complex form of puzzle organisation in an escape room is using a path model, which combines the features of the open and sequential order. This approach allows for the full involvement of the players in a complex story, while maintaining the element of random selection of themes, which retain their chronology.
Uniqueness is the thing
As with any training game, an escape room, its game plot and puzzles to be solved should refer to experience, knowledge and skills that players possess before entering the room. The tasks should be a varied, unique and offering a wide array of stimuli. They should also be adapted to different learning styles. The most important thing is that they are consistent with the overall objective and detailed goals of the game.
It is worth remembering that players have a time limit set for getting out of the room. This is why the number and level of complexity of information, which they gain during the game should be limited and communicated in a way allowing to become fully acquainted with it within the time limit. An overwhelming amount of material may hinder learning in an escape room and prevent completion of the game. It is important to strike a balance between information provided in the escape room, the quantity and level of complexity of puzzles and the duration of the game.
Each game played in an escape room should be rounded off with a debriefing, i.e. players’ discussion with a coach. During the debriefing, you need to discuss difficulties the players came across, their achievements and reflections stemming from the game. It is worth discussing each riddle individually. You should analyse it in in the group and discuss in the context of knowledge and soft skills acquired by the players or tested during the game. You should bear in mind that an adventure in an escape rooms causes stress, this is why the discussion between the coach and players needs to serve several important functions. First of all, players need to cool down and digest the experience. It is also the time when they talk about their emotions, share their thoughts and ask questions. This type of discussion also allows for a smooth transition from the fictional into the real world, which is extremely important if the educational experience in the escape room forms part of a wider adult education strategy.
You have to remember that adult learners are oriented on the outcomes of the learning process. This is why it is important that the win in the escape room is spectacular. Such win will intensify satisfaction and positive emotions, which will have a positive impact on the learning process, strengthen positive attitudes towards educational activity and motivate to taking further efforts.
Evaluation is the final stage of escape room design. Thanks to several games played by individual teams, whose members meet the previously set criteria of the target group, you can tell whether the objectives of the training have been met. On this basis, you should introduce improvements and next carry out more tests until you obtain the expected result. This phase requires attention, precision and patience. However, it is indispensable for ensuring educational effectiveness of the escape room.
Last but not least, when designing educational experience in an escape room, you cannot forget about the most important aspect, which is fun. The escape room experience, which is no fun to the players will not only adversely affect their well-being, but also the learning outcomes. At the end of the day, it is fun and satisfaction that make training games so attractive for participants of training courses and workshops.
Escape rooms have a significant educational potential, which andragogues start to understand. I think that they can form an efficient method of adult education or diagnostic tool. There is no recipe for a successful escape room, which would serve as a perfect space for all adult learners, and designing a model adapted to pre-set educational objectives and a specific target group calls for an individual approach and multiple trials and tests. However, I am confident that the end result will be well worth the effort.