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Deconstructing Candy Crush: what instructional design can learn from game design

Evangeline Marlos Varonis (Design and Development Services, The University of Akron, Akron, OH, USA)
Maria Evangeline Varonis (Department of English, The University of Akron, Akron, OH, USA)

International Journal of Information and Learning Technology

ISSN: 2056-4880

Article publication date: 1 June 2015




The purpose of this paper is to explore four general design features of King Digital Entertainment’s game “Candy Crush Saga” – structural, social, cognitive, and emotional – that reflect the principles of Universal Design for Learning and discusses how these features can be applied to course design in order to motivate learner persistence and increase student success.


Both authors are casual Candy Crush game players intrigued by how the game motivates users to continue. The methodology began with participant observation and expanded to “deconstruction” of game features and application of research findings in multiple disciplines to build the argument that game design strategies can be applied to course design to enhance learning outcomes.


Many factors influence game play, but it is crucial for each level to provide increasing challenges that motivate increased mastery but do not frustrate a player to the point of quitting. Similarly, course design that provides the opportunity for learners to achieve a sense of “flow” through the opportunity to identify goals, meet challenges, and receive feedback may encourage them to persist even when they are working autonomously as in some online environments.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is based on an analysis of the design of a single game and has not been formally tested on course design. Some suggestions may be easier to implement in courses than others.

Practical implications

The paper offers 14 structural, three social, four cognitive, and six social design strategies that can be implemented in course design as a way to potentially enhance learner engagement and learning outcomes.


No published research exists that connects game design and course design in this fashion.



Many thanks to Orestes “This will be the first time I’ve ever seen anyone write a paper to justify their social guilt” Varonis, Mahli Mechenbeier, and Jill Phipps for responding to an earlier draft.


Varonis, E.M. and Varonis, M.E. (2015), "Deconstructing Candy Crush: what instructional design can learn from game design", International Journal of Information and Learning Technology, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 150-164.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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