Wordle has captured the minds of many, with a simple, yet challenging concept. Guess a word through trial and error, hints along the way, and a little bit of luck. When our team was brainstorming ways to prepare learners to engage in a new topic, we decided to use a Wordle-type puzzle as an anchor activity with a little bit of a twist. Paired with a hint about the word, the learner is challenged to think about the upcoming content while also being presented with an intriguing problem.
If you’re into Wordle, or if you simply want to see what it is that I’m writing about, then take a few moments to play our little Storyline-based version of the Wordle (read on to find out why you shouldn’t open it on your phone). What follows is how we created it and some of the challenges we had to address.
Our Goals for Building a Wordle-like Interaction
We had some goals based on how we planned on using the Wordle.
- Reduce learner cognitive load: When we decide to draw inspiration from a well-designed, popular game, we really want to match the existing experience as much as possible. This is a combination of wanting to leverage really high-quality game design and the comfort level that our learners will already have with this game and our desire to reduce the cognitive load.
- Reusable: We also knew that this was going to take a considerable amount of work. For it to be worthwhile for us, we felt that it should be something that would be useful in other projects and other ways. For us this means that what we create is well-documented, driven by variables that can be quickly updated, and is generally stable.
- Accessible: Learners should be able to use this even if they have limitations that mean they need to engage with it in a different way.
Challenges with Creating a Wordle in Storyline
Our goals were well-intentioned but proved to add considerable work to the project. We chose to build this activity in Storyline because of its flexibility. It is also what many of our courses are built in so we knew that this would make it easily reusable.
Reduce Learner Cognitive Load
Attempting to match the user experience of a game built in more modern technologies using Storyline has some very real challenges. The first major challenge was around text entry fields. What seemed an obvious way to match the user experience in Wordle turned out to have three big problems.
- Text entry fields in Storyline are very limited in functionality. You need to know that someone has entered one character in the Wordle and what the character is. Wordle knows this when you type. Storyline doesn’t! It doesn’t record that anything happened until you do something else like click out of the field!
- This interaction required more text entry fields on a page than we had ever used. Through this experience we learned (and attempted to prove to ourselves through some testing) that having many text entry fields leads to very slow performance of a Storyline course. To combat this issue, rather than text entry boxes, text variables were created, placed on screen, and set to trigger based on keystrokes. And while this made copying the slide over much easier, the set up for each text variable required a trigger for each letter of the alphabet.
- It proved to be too complicated in Storyline to evaluate everything that Wordle evaluates. We could show whether a letter was correct, incorrect or correct-but-in-the-wrong-place (though this did add a lot of work). What we couldn’t do was evaluate some of the other situations like whether the letter was already used. There’s a reason Wordle is built in more powerful technologies!
With both text entry fields and listening for keystrokes, we knew we had to manage this through variables that could be updated easily. Ideally, we would be able to set the variable for each correct letter at the beginning of the file. It wasn’t quite this easy. The biggest challenge proved to be another limitation of Storyline. Without going into great detail, we found that to make this work, we had to set a lot of variables to listen for all the other characters that could come up as an option. In the end, we were able to make it reusable, but the amount of work to set it up is not small and requires additional testing each time to make sure that everything was updated correctly.
It is very easy to say Storyline is accessible. It does include tools that allow you to address accessibility, but as soon as you begin to create more complicated interactions in Storyline, you’ll find that it is harder to maintain accessibility. The option to use text fields felt like it would help us get closer to being accessible however we quickly found that the basic functionality of Storyline is to have all of the text fields available. A user who tabbed through and entered all the letters would skip through the logic that we were using to evaluate their answers. When we switched to keypress this seemed to work well with accessibility. What we didn’t realize is that cell phones don’t see this as text entry and so they don’t show the keyboard! Ultimately, we decided that this interaction would be used primarily on computers and it was more important that it be accessible than it was to try to make this interaction work on a mobile phone.
Complications and Compromises
I’m lucky to work on a team where nobody is ever on an island. I’ve always leaned on the Articulate community for ideas and solutions but I’m also lucky to have others internally to brainstorm ideas with. With projects like this, what I find most critical is the ability to sit down with the course designer and talk about what is most important and what is realistic. On this interaction we made some compromises to be able to deliver something that met as many of our requirements as possible. What was most important in the end was thinking about what learning problem we were trying to solve and making sure that we were aligning our efforts with that end goal.
If anyone is interested, I’m happy to share the Storyline file and the instructions I’ve written. Let me know in the comments or send me an email!
Budget season for the 2023 fiscal year is upon us. If you’re looking to bring engagement – whether Wordle-like interactions, other game elements, or you simply need an extra set of hands to create elearning for your organization – drop us a line and let’s have virtual coffee. We’d love to hear more about the kinds of learning that your organization is doing and you might be surprised by just how reasonably priced our elearning development can be for you!