Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Motivation: Learning theory, Gaming theory

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

I’m really excited that we’re having a kind of “journal/book club” thing in my department today, and the topic is gamification. There are several of us into the whole gaming/gamification thing, and the most experienced of us chose the chapter for us to read.

Let me start by saying that one of the things that bother me most about the educational gaming/gamification literature is that it tends to be overly positive… Kind of like the edtech field used to seem to me. I remember asking a few people on the #gbl hashtag for book recommendations that took a more critical view of gaming for eduction… And Ana Salter (I think) said she was not aware of any. I remember critiquing this TED Talk by Jane McGonigal that seems to be hyperbolic about the benefits of video games (I mean, really, it’s called “Video games can make a better world”, and Lee Graham sending this link about the research behind it. Err, but that’s Jane’s own website. It might have selection bias?

My boss and I were talking the other day about disruptive innovation (hate this term) and how it is no longer used about MOOCs. We were saying the new cool thing is gaming and gamification. Which might explain the uncritical hyperbole. Of course, in practice, as more people use it, criticism will appear. Because nothing in education is ever always a good idea, and nothing is as “easy” to implement as it seems.

But… The reading we are doing for the discussion at work is a good one in the sense that it brings together learning and gaming theory. It’s kind of a literature review (albeit not very well written coz it explains each theory separately without making good connections or doing good critiques of each). I’d like to summarize some of what I learned and to reflect a bit on it. The book is The Gamification of Learning and Instruction by Kapp. The chapter is chapter 3 which focuses mainly on motivation. Looking at the table of contents and flipping through, i was initially ticked off at the mention of “conditioning” (we’re umm not animals?) but soothed by the mention of cognitive apprenticeship, scaffolding, social learning theory. Keep in mind i was also reading this to see if it’d be useful to assign to my students (it isn’t, but I can extract ideas from it to share with them to help them assess the games they are designing, and also in my academic papers evaluating games that I have designed).

I love that the chapter starts by differentiating intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. One of the largest misconceptions about games is the focus on external rewards like badges and points – which truly defeats the purpose of converting an educational experience into a game, because, you know, grades? I don’t see a big difference between motivational value of grades and badges (a tiny one, maybe, if badges indicate achievement of a certain kind rather than a number or letter without meaning). It’s also a mistake educators make, focusing on external motivation. So, that was cool. I am also glad i had talked to my students about this before, asking them to focus on game aesthetics, what makes the game experience enjoyable for players, rather than just rewards, levels, etc.

The first model discussed in the chapter is Keller’s ARCS model: “Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction.” These all sound obvious to any teacher, right? But I like how in the chapter the “relevance” one is broken down into different ways of making learning relevant to learners (something I know some teachers struggle with). The suggestions (my comments on them between brackets) include making goals explicit to learners (might not do the trick, tho, coz still teacher-centered), match edu objectives with learner goals (always a good idea but difficult if learners have diverse goals/motivations), making new knowledge familiar by connecting it to learners’ previous knowledge (i definitely agree with this one), and modeling results of new knowledge gained (again, makes sense to do).

The next models are Malone’s and Lepper’s two theories related to intrinsic motivation – which apparently they joined forces on later to create a Taxonomy of Intrinsic Motivation, as follows:

* Challenge in terms of goals, uncertain outcomes, performance feedback, and self-esteem
* Curiosity in terms of sensory and cognitive inquisitiveness
* Control in terms of contingency, choice, and power
* Fantasy in terms of the emotional and cognitive aspects of fantasy as well as the interweaving of the fantasy and the skills to be learned within the game is important

The second section of The Taxonomy of Intrinsic Motivations deals with interpersonal motivations. This includes:
* Cooperation in terms of players working together to achieve a goal within the game
* Competition in terms of competing against another player to achieve a goal
* Recognition in terms of making achievements available for others to see so the hard work needed to achieve a level of mastery in a game is recognized”

(emphasis mine, quote from p. 91-92 from iBooks version of the book).

I’m kind of upset that the term “contextualization” (which originally appears in Lepper’s model) is lost and the term Fantasy (which I like less, and is harder to maintain) replaces it, sort of.

I like what you can get when you combine ARCS with this model…(the author makes no such connections, btw)

To gain students’ attention, you may need to pique their curiosity and challenge them. Curiosity also works best if students see relevance and this makes them want to know more about something – contextualization helps too (not sure how fantasy does!). Giving learners control helps them with their confidence as well, doesn’t it? And I guess everything in the taxonomy contributes to satisfaction in some way, but also particularly the social aspects.

It’s kind of funny to call a social factor a kind of intrinsic motivator. Seems counterintuitive. But it isn’t really. Because i think it refers to our internal enjoyment of the sociality of an activity, rather than any particular reward coming from that social process, if that makes sense? It’s clear to me that cooperation or competition can make a game or learning experience more enjoyable if coupled with some other factors like relevance and curiosity and challenge. Competition contributes to challenge, while cooperation contributes to one’s confidence in one’s ability to achieve. It’s also sometimes more enjoyable to win something as a team than alone (image of Roger Federer and Wawrinka hugging like loones after winning tennis Olympic gold for doubles).

Moving on… I will totally ignore the part about Operant Conditioning, even though I see its relevance to designing game dynamics and mechanics. I think it controls behavior (it is a behaviorist theory, isn’t it?) rather than motivation, if that makes sense? So I understand why a game designer can benefit from it, but I don’t think it’s a good one for this discussion.

The Self-Determination Theory which shows up next in the chapter was totally new to me. The author places it as the internally-driven opposite of operant conditioning (externally driven). Some of the elements of the theory are control, competence and relatedness (connection to others). This, er, makes sense and is v similar to some of the elements of the taxonomy mentioned earlier, right? The combo, tho, made me think of things like cMOOCs and connected learning experiences, and that it truly makes sense for adult autonomous learners to seek experiences where they feel they will have these elements of control (can do what they want, when they want), competence (are able to navigate with ease or can improve by doing more) and relatedness (connecting with other people). That about sums up a lot of what could demotivate someone coming into such an experience, if one of these is missing.

On p. 96 of the chapter, we get this useful nugget:

“In a study of gamers in an online community, it was discovered that autonomy, competence, and relatedness all independently predicted enjoyment and future game play.”

(This is the study they’re citing btw: Ryan, R.M., Rigby, C.S., & Przybylski, A. (2006). The motivational pull of video games: A self-determination theory approach. Motivation and Emotion, 30, 347–364.)

Another new idea that shows up is Distributed Practice which could be seen simply as engaging with something over time rather than cramming all in one go (called “mass practice” which is a confusing name to me) Sustained engagement over time, I guess. Makes sense for learning of course. But as the author points out, the long-term retention benefits don’t appear with immediate assessment, they show up later. So it’s tricky. But yeah, now I am seeing how of course games that encourage ppl to keep coming back are going to achieve this sustained engagement over time and thus be good for learning (assuming the games have educational value in some way).

Scaffolding, cognitive apprenticeship, social learning – these are all familiar to most educators so I won’t re-hash them here (assuming I know my audience) but yeah, I can see how games can do these things, depending on the kind of game. The prob with lots of edu game literature is that it tends to refer to video games with rich multimedia and rich narratives, when most of the kind of games i deal with are… Not. But I can still see how I could apply some of this stuff to things like #TvsZ and how my students’ designed non-tech games need to incorporate elements of e.g. Scaffolding.

One concept very important for games is that of “flow”. The author calls it the “ideal state between boredom and anxiety or frustration” and is a sweet spot depending on difficulty and ability. If something is too difficult for our ability, we feel anxious, if too easy for our ability, we feel bored. But if it’s just at or above our ability… Well isn’t that Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development?

There is more to all this but i don’t have time to write about it now. Be back later if I can…
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