Seeing learning through the lens of venue

“Your non-responsive learning product will probably result in non-responsive learners”

In the ‘Art of Game Design’, Chapter 3, the fantastic Jesse Schell talks about ‘the lens of venue’

He posits that game designers often overfocus on the ‘device’ on which gamers play ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† (playstation, smartphone, PC) instead of focusing on a more important variable, the venue.

The venue is the place where we actually play the game (the bus, the living room, the desk). The venue exerts a great influence on the gaming experience we have. Games that are successful in different venues present very different characteristics.

I believe taking the venue into consideration is also crucial for the design of learning experiences.  

Let’s look at learning through the lens of venue.


A workbench is a place where do serious work, like a desk. It is a “front-leaning” place, and the games that work well in this venue are usually long and intense such as Starcraft.

In my experience, high focus, highly visual learning activities that require intense keyboard and mouse activity (and probably two screens) are well suited for the desk. MS Excel or graphic design tutorials ring a bell.

My guess is that, if the learning task is ‘too relaxed’ for the desk, the person will choose to do something more ‘work-like’… after all, she is at the desk…and probably at an office, pretending to work.

MY TAKE: As a designer of learning experiences, take advantage of the time learners spend on the workbench for high focus, keyboard, and mouse-intensive tasks.

Ok, let’s move on to the venue of the hearth.


According to Schell, the hearth is the place where we humans have historically tended to fire. The living room is the classic example: a relaxed, yet noisy and sociable place. In the realm of games, those who succeed are in such a player either locally¬†multiplayer or fun to watch (think of Nintendo’s WII)

I suspect that university or corporate cafeterias and campus lawns present similar characteristics.  The learning experiences that are suitable for such sociable places are NOT those that will make the learner look like a friendless geek.

MY TAKE: There is an opportunity for designers to create mobile learning experiences for ‘hearth-like places’. Such experiences must be either fun to play together or fun to watch, like a Jeopardy game, perhaps?


The reading nook is the place where we sit down and read, such as a couch, in the house. Tablets and bigger phone screens have brought about new opportunities for game designers, and the same is of course true for designers of learning experiences.

The games that work well on the reading nook are relaxed, much like reading a book.

MY TAKE: If you are designing a course that requires a significant amount of reading, make sure the reading material is compatible with the devices that the learner would use in a comfortable couch-like place, such as a tablet or phone.  Responsive design, pdf and even Epub versions of the material might be welcome.


Gaming experiences that work well everywhere are interruptible and have simple stories. The book is a classic learning device that is suited for being used anywhere, as are Sudokus and word puzzles. The Kindle app for smartphones is a strong competitor, but I believe online video Moocs are not, especially with current bandwidth constraints.

MY TAKE: Interruptible learning experiences, delivered in small chunks will succeed in charming the learner-on-the-go. Such ‘everywhere’ learning experiences should be low bandwidth-friendly (text or audio only) for the offline moments that the learner might experience.

UPDATE: Since writing this article, 4G and even 5g have made watching uninterrupted videos easier; people are always online. Ok, still let’s consider an alternative: why not prioritize audio – or even create courses that are 100% podcast version, and help in a small way to the learners “digital hygiene”¬† (people on-the-go should be looking at their surroundings and smiling at their fellow humans, not only a video on a screen, after all)

And you? What kind of learning do you enjoy doing on the workbench, on the reading nook or everywhere? Can you think of learning experiences that are successful in the hearth?