Suffering from lecture lethargy? Break free and create an escape room

Published by Caroline Carlin on

Authors: By Emma Gillaspy @egillaspy, Abhi Jones @AbhilashaJones, Gemma Spencer @gemmawhite84 and Julia Robinson @JuliaRobbo73 (UCLan)


Did you know that escape rooms are a growing phenomenon? They usually involve a group of people locked in a physical or virtual room, often based around a chosen theme. The overall aim is to escape from the room, but to achieve this they must work together solving puzzles and cracking codes. Recreational Escape rooms have been widely used as a fun and engaging way to learn through play (Zhang et al., 2018). We have adapted this playful concept to develop interpersonal skills and effective team working across health disciplines collaboratively for students and staff. Play is well known to improve cognitive development in both children and adults (Piaget 1962; Vygotsky 1962) and gamification fosters the relationship between fun, focus and learning outcomes (Tulloch 2014; van Gaalen et al., 2021). Our team developed several escape rooms, initially planned as face-to-face sessions, then BOOM! the pandemic hit. So, we got our thinking caps back on and quickly adapted them into online learning experiences for our healthcare students.


The results of these online escape rooms were amazing to watch. In our experience, they created a student-centred immersive learning environment to develop capabilities such as communication, leadership and teamworking. Plus, they are incredibly fun to facilitate too!

Our face-to-face and digital experiences consistently show positive feedback. For example, from a recent survey of students completing our interdisciplinary sepsis escape room, they rated the experience at 4.66/5 stars with 97% agreeing that it stimulated/challenged their thinking and would recommend it to other students. Students described the experience in their own words as exhilarating, fun, engaging, interactive and eye opening and asked for more sessions to be developed using this approach: Overall a great, useful and educational experience! Would love to have more of these kinds of sessions!” 


By now you must be thinking that’s all very well but how do I actually create one of these for my students? Well we just so happened to have designed a puzzle so you can figure out the steps involved in creating your own escape room. Have a play and see what you think, would you do it in the same order as us? You might want to start by asking yourself what the session learning outcomes are, and how you can weave that into an engaging narrative.

But that’s nowhere near enough detail for me to get started you say? Well strap in, here comes the techy bit… For our escape rooms, we used ThingLink, a dead easy online interactive image software, that allows the user to explore an image or video containing embedded information. You can use whatever images you like but our sepsis escape room used an insta360 camera (did you know you can loan this kind of kit from LIS?) connected to a mobile phone to take a 360-degree image of one of the simulation suites in the UCLan clinical skills lab. This image was then uploaded to ThingLink and the puzzles embedded into different hotspot types. Solved puzzles gave codes that opened virtual padlocks created using Flippity Scavenger Hunt. For the final code, we used a conditional tour tag to another ThingLink containing a ‘congratulations you have escaped’ image.

How do I go about creating the puzzles though? The best way to get your puzzling head on is to play a few recreational escape rooms which is sure to get your ideas flowing. Once you have some ideas, LearningApps is a great tool to create your puzzles but you can equally use cipher images, logic puzzles or riddles. Have a play to find out which puzzles would work for your escape room idea. You can also embed Microsoft or Google Forms as quizzes or evaluation. Top tip: To embed office documents (PowerPoint, Word etc) from your UCLan OneDrive, follow this sharing demo. You can also embed documents easily via the Google suite.

Feel free to have a play around with any of these examples built using ThingLink:

Plus there are lots of other ways to develop educational escape rooms, see this recent AdvanceHE workshop by #creativeHE colleague @rachelleeobrien who uses OneNote for escape rooms. Or this example shared at a #creativeHE event of an induction escape room built using Articulate Rise.

Now what?

We hope that reading this blog has whetted your appetite and you are considering ditching that lecture in favour of an escape room or other #playlearn approach. Feel free to contact any of us to talk escape rooms anytime! We have example facilitator guides and can work with you on your ideas to ensure playability. You can also find the recording and resources from our conference workshop here. Good luck play makers!


Piaget, J., (1962), Play, dreams and imitation in childhood, W. W. Norton & Company, New York

Tulloch, R. (2014). Reconceptualising gamification: Play and pedagogy. Digital Culture & Education, 6(4), 317-333

van Gaalen, A., Brouwer, J., Schönrock-Adema, J., Bouwkamp-Timmer, T., Jaarsma, A., & Georgiadis, J. R. (2021). Gamification of health professions education: a systematic review. Advances in health sciences education : theory and practice, 26(2), 683–711.

Vygotsky, L. S., (1962), Thought and Language, Wiley, New York

Zhang, X. C., Lee, H., Rodriguez, C., Rudner, J., Chan, T. M., & Papanagnou, D. (2018). Trapped as a Group, Escape as a Team: Applying Gamification to Incorporate Team-building Skills Through an ‘Escape Room’ Experience. Cureus, 10(3).


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *