Gaming with Learning Design – The Next Level

First of all, my apologies. I plan to write my mini literature reviews every weekend, however this last weekend I was facilitating sessions and speaking at #MozFest14 which is most definitely the most intensive conference that I attend which spans Friday to Sunday. I finally caught up on my sleep Monday night so back in the study saddle once more.

Last week I continued my look into gamification and its affect on goals and motivation on learners, this week I move more into motivation and its impact on learner retention in informal learning, linking back to my reading on gamification, more to follow on that later this week.


Previously the activity of role playing and simulation was addressed in it’s impact in gamification and on motivation for informal learners. When considering the concept of the learning design of informal learning journeys, previous studies involving goal setting were considered. This is due to the hypothesis that if a learner were to undertake an informal learning journey that they may possibly have a learning goal in mind.

Research by Kozlowski and Bell (2006) suggests that goals enhance self-regulation by affecting motivation, self-efficacy, and learning. With the addition that self-regulated learners are capable of being presented with, and selecting from, a range of learning strategies in accordance to their goals and subsequent learning environment. This is then builds on by the findings of Vollmeyer and Burns (2002) in which it was found that learners with pre-defined goals focused on the task they were presented with, instead of the learning objective.

The question that I wish to understand from this research is whether the learner felt that, due to their pre-defined goals, they did not need to focus on the learning objective as it was already set via their goals. Does this mean that from linking the two research papers together that if a learner is clear in their goal setting at the start of their journey that they are able to select the appropriate learning strategy in line with their goals and then able to concentrate solely on the learning tasks? Would this allow them to stay more motivated to completion?

Previous studies have shown (Azevedo & Hadwin, 2005) that the presence of scaffolding improves the learning achievements by stimulating metacognition and cognitive activities, leading to established learning motives and outcomes.  Azevedo, Cromley, and Seibert (2004) state that the provision of scaffolding at an appropriate time can improve self motivated and regulated learning by allowing the learner to facilitate their own personal learning strategies such as goal-setting, strategic planning, selection, and implementation and the monitoring of such activity and outcomes. The use of scaffolding can also have the impact through helping learners to achieve problem-solving tasks whilst developing additional skills to use in future learning activities (Sharma and Hannafin, 2007).

The use of scaffolding must be considered in the relation to informal learning design and whether it would have an impact on the early stages of goal setting. Would it be possible in an informal learning environment to have multiple scaffolds from which the learner could be able to select from dependent upon their goals and therefore potentially increase their self motivation. As goals would help to focus the learners to select the strategy or structure that is appropriate to them to monitor their progress by (Schunk, 2001), strong consideration must be given to the reflection on the link between early goal setting and motivation amongst learners as it helps the learner to gauge their progress (Schunk, 1990).

Controversially, the findings by Sweller and Levine (1982) suggest that learners can perform better if they are not presented with a specific goal to achieve. This research is not in isolation with subsequent studies by Vollmeyer and Burns (2002), Vollmeyer et al (2000), and Wirth et al (2009) all supporting this initial statement.

It could be possible that by not having a specific learning goal that a learner is potentially left with what could be considered an ‘open task’ allowing them to move freely between content until they have sought enough knowledge to satisfy them, or spark enough of an interest to progress their learning within a particular field or discipline and therefore move to the status of a ‘closed task’ (Vollmeyer and Burns, 2002).

Interestingly, a learner may not have a specific learning goal as they are not able to develop self regulation behaviours by themselves, and therefore may require guidance in the early stages of the scaffolding to acquire such skills (Feng and Chen, 2014).  Such learners if devoid of skills in the early stages of learning may not be able to adjust their learning strategies and behaviour in line with emerging developments, this could cause them to become demotivated in the task that they had originally set themselves. Both Pintrich (2000) and Azevedo et al (2004) emphasize that self regulated and selected strategies can be difficult to develop without scaffolding, and guidance and support in how to navigate it. This coincidences with Reiser’s (2004) findings that by providing a structure that is clear in its design and direction that learners are able to view the task as less complex and therefore easier to handle and achieve.

The concept of clear directional scaffolds has an impact on Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975) concept of ‘flow’. It is perceived that a higher level of flow is positively correlated to the undertaking of higher exploratory learning strategies (Trevino and Webster , 1992), such learning strategies could include learning-by-example and analytical reasoning (Liu, Cheng, and Huang, 2011). Therefore consideration must be given to the flow of a learning journey to ensure that it remains constant and achievable with an increase in skill and knowledge acquisition as the journey progresses as Garris et al (2002) found that game-based learning is more effective when it it deemed interesting and motivating suggesting that flow is achieved by the learner when the game is of interest to them. This research addresses the issue of the balance that is to be sought between perceived challenge and skill which is essential to maintain to ensure optimal flow  (Csikszentmihalyi 1975). As skills increase the challenge must also, thus the learning journey must be able to progress the learner into more difficult and engaging learning, otherwise the maintaining of the same level throughout the journey whilst skills increase would lead to the ‘absence of flow’ (Massimini and Carli, 1988; Novak and Hoffman, 1997). So balance in flow is crucial for learners to maintain intrinsic motivation that could lead to a display of exploratory behaviours within learning (Trevino and Webster 1992)  which is fundamental for a learner to stay motivated to the completion of their learning journey.


Azevedo, R., Cromley, J.G. & Seibert, D. (2004). Does adaptive scaffolding facilitate student’s ability to regulate their learning with hypermedia? Contemporary Educational Psychology, 29, 3, 344-370.

Azevedo, R. & Hadwin, A.F. (2005). Scaffolding self-regulated learning and metacognition – implications for the design of computer-based scaffolds. Instructional Science, 33, 5-6, 367-379.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond boredom and anxiety. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass

Feng, C-Y. & Chen, M-P. (2014). The effects of goal specificity and scaffolding on programming and performance and self-regulation in game design. British Journal of Educational Technology. 45, 2, 285-302.

Garris, R., Ahlers, R. & Driskell, E.J. (2002). Games, motivation, and learning: a research and practice model. Simulation & Gaming.  33, 4, 441-467.

Kozlowski, S.W.J. & Bell, B.S. (2006). Disentangling achievement orientation and goal setting: effects on self-regulatory processes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 4, 900-916.

Liu, C.C., Cheng, Y.B. & Huang, C.W. (2011). The effect on simulation games on the learning of computational problem solving: the effects of type of question prompt and level of prior knowledge. Computers & Education,  57, 3, 1907-1918.

Massimini, F. & Carli, M. (1988). The systematic assessment of flow in daily experience. In M. Csikszentmihalyi & I.S. Csikszentmihalyi (Eds), Optimal experience: psychology studies of flow in consciousness (pp. 266-287). Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Novak, T. P. & Hoffman, D.L. (1997). Measuring the flow experience among web users. Paper presented at the Interval Research Corporation.

Pintrich, P.R. & DeGroot, E.V. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance, Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 1, 33-40.

Reiser, B.J. (2004). Scaffolding complex learning: the mechanisms of structuring and problematising student work. Journal of the Learning Sciences. 13, 273-304.

Schunk, D.H. (1990). Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist. 25, 1, 71-86.

Schunk, D.H. (2001). Self-regulation through goal setting. (ERIC Document Reproduction Services No. ED 462671).

Sharma, P & Hannafin, M.J. (2007). Scaffolding in technology-enhanced learning environments. Interactive Learning Environments.  15, 1, 27-46.

Sweller, J. & Levine, M. (1982). Effects on goal specificity on means-ends analysis and learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition.  8, 5, 463-474.

Trevino, L.K. & Webster, J. (1992). Flow in computer-mediated communication: electronic mail and voice mail evaluation and impacts. Communication Research,  19, 5, 539-573.

Vollmeyer, R., Burns, B.D. & Holyoak, K.J. (1996). The impact of goal specificity on strategy use and the acquisition of problem structure. Cognitive Science. 20, 1, 75-100.

Vollmeyer, R., Burns, B.D., & Rheinburg, F. (2000). Goal specificity and learning with a multimedia program. In L. Gleitman & A.K. Joshi (Eds), Proceedings of the twenty-second annual meeting of the cognitive science society (pp. 541-546). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Wirth, J., Kunsting, J. & Leutner, D. (2009). The impact of goal specificity and goal type on learning outcome and cognitive load. Computers in Human Behaviour,  25, 2, 299-305.

Gaming With Learning Design

As mentioned in my previous blog post I will be writing a mini-lit review each weekend on the papers that I have read that week. This week I turned my attention to gamification. The purpose of this interest is through reviewing papers on learning design whilst on holiday (weekly posts about those over the forthcoming weeks) with the focus for me being on the thought process of the potential design of learning journeys and motivation in informal learning, gamification became a field of interest. Over the years I have observed how players move through levels, and keep playing for hours and days at an end, but why? What’s the hook? And how can I transfer that to learning design in informal learning journeys to increase motivation?


One of the biggest challenges in informal learning is motivation. Why is it that students undertaking formal qualifications are focused to completion, and informal learners aren’t as much? Granted there is a student drop out rate in formal higher education, but it seems not at the rate as to that of informal learners. So what motivates the student to complete where the informal learner does not? To complete, both student and learner must be motivated, but can the only motivations to learning and completion of study be a qualification in the form of letters and a certificate and the cost of formal tuition driving the student to completion? How and why is an informal learner motivated and through sound learning design can the pedagogy of an informal course aid or encourage this?

Most recently there has been growing research in the field of gamification. Previously thought largely as ‘play’ for children, a number of observations has led to the development of study in this field with the view to improving education (e.g. Emery & Enger 1972; Martin 1979; Perrone et al 1996; Squire 2002; Verenikina & Herrington 2009), with the recent explosion in technology and gaming developments there has been a significant increase in the focus of game-based learning (Garris et al 2002; Gros 2007; Pivec 2007; Hong et al 2009).

Cherryholmes (1966) presented findings that role-playing exercises enhance student motivation in comparison to the more traditional learning approaches such as lectures and case studies. Though it didn’t lead to an increase in concept learning it was stated that role-play aided in the retention of material learnt. Cherryholmes went on to state in the same findings that simulations increased the students’ interest in a topic and therefore their learning attitude. Many years later Randel et al. (1992) added that the subject matter must be taken into account when evaluating the effectiveness of using simulations, with the most beneficial being focused on the study of languages and mathematics. Druckman and Ebner (2013) counter Cherryholmes research with their own, stating that concept retention and motivation are enhanced through the use of simulation.

These are in many ways blanket statements. Through the work of Vogel et al (2006) in the conducting of meta-analyses to explore to what context does the use of games and interactive simulations become more or less effective that traditional instruction methods led me to the examine whether this would have a connection with the four types of learning theories developed by Smith (1999) namely; behaviourism, cognitivism, humanism, and constructivism. Though Utopian, it is not possible to only create one type of learning journey as there is not one type of informal learner.

Behaviourisms is based on the three principles; of learning manifested by change in behaviour, that environment shaping behaviour, and contiguity and reinforcement being crucial to the explanation of the learning process (Grippen & Peters 1983; Schlechter 1991; Watson 1997). Cognitivism advocate that involved thinking is required in addition to simulation and reinforcement (Moore & Fitz 1993), and built on the three principles of; attribution theory (Weiner 1974) in the explanation of the world to determine cause to events or behaviour, elaboration theory (Reigeluth 1983) grading learning from simple to complex, and theory of conditional learning (Gagne 1965) stipulating several different levels of learning requiring different types of instruction. Humanism concentrates on the freedom, value, dignity and potential of people (Combs 1981) with learning being student centred and the educator in the role as facilitator. Finally, constructivism believes learning to be an active process with learners in the role of information constructors creating their own representations of their reality (Bednar et al 1995).

What can be drawn from this is that motivation to learn is not a ‘one size fits all’ issue that can be resolved by a singular template to informal learning design. Though it won’t be possible in the time frame of my doctorate to explore all of the possibilities of what each of those learning designs could represent, it is possible to research as to the motivations of informal learners to ascertain what type of learning design could be potentially created in the future.


Bednar, A.K., Cunningham, D., Duffy, R.M., & Perry, J.D. (1995) Theory into practice: how do we think? In Instructional Technology: Past, Present, and Future (ed. G.J. Anglin), pp. 100-112. Libraries Unlimited, Inc., Englewood, CO.

Cherryholmes, C. (1966). Some current research on effectiveness of educational simulation games: A synthesis of findings. Simulation and Games 12(3): 307-332

Combs, A.W. (1981) Humanistic education: too tender for a tough world? The Phi Delta Kappan. 62, 446-449

de Freitas, S. & Routledge, H. (2013). Designing leadership and soft skills in educational games: The e-leadership and soft skills educational games design model (ELESS), British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 44 No 6 2013 951-968. British Educational Research Association.

Druckman, D. & Ebner, N. (2013). Games, Claims, and New Frames: Rethinking the Use of Simulation in Negotiation Education. Negotiation Journal January 2013

Emery, E.D., & Enger, T.P (1972) Computer gaming and learning in an introductory economics course. The Journal of Economic Education. 3, 77-85

Feng, C-Y., & Chen, M-P. (2013). The effects of goal specificity and scaffolding on programming performance and self regulation in game design. British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 45 No 2 2014 285-302. British Educational Research Association.

Gange, R. (1965) The Conditions of Learning. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY.

Garris, R., Ahlers, R. & Driskell, J.E. (2002) Games, motivation, and learning; a research and practice model. Simulation and Gaming. 33, 441-467

Geippin, P. & Peters, S. (1983) Learning Theory and Learning Outcomes: The Connection. University Press of America, Inc., Lanham, MD.

Gros, B. (2007) Digital games in education: the design of games-based learning environments. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 40, 23-38

Hong, J-C., Cheng, C-L., Hwang, M-Y., Lee, C-K., & Chang, H-Y. (2009) Assessing the educational values of digital games. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 25, 423-437

Li, Z-Z., Cheng, Y-B., & Liu, C-C. (2012). A constructionism framework for designing game-like learning systems: Its effect on different learners. British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 44 No 2 2013 208-224

Martin, D.S. (1979) Five simulation games in the social sciences. Simulation Gaming 10, 331-349

Moore, P. & Fitz, C. (1993) Gestalt theory and instructional design. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 23, 137-157

Perrone, C., Clark, D. & Repenning A. (1996) WebQuest; substantiating education in edutainment through interactive learning games. Computer Networks and ISDN Systems 28, 1307-1319

Pivec, M. (2007) Editorial: Play and learn: potentials of game-based learning. British Journal of Educational Technology. 38, 387-393

Randel, J.M., Morris, B.A., Wetzel, C.D., & Whitehall, B.V. (1992) The effectiveness of games for educational purposes: A review of recent research. Simulation and Gaming 23(3): 261-276

Reigeluth, C.M. (1983) Instructional Design Theories and Models. Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ.

Shlecter, T.M. (1991). Problems and Promises of Computer Based Training. Ablex Publishing Corporation, Norwood, NJ.

Squire, K. (2002) Biohazard Education at the Speed of Fear. MIT/Microsoft, Comparative Media Studies Department, Boston, M.A.

Smith, M.K. (1999) ‘Learning theory’, the encyclopedia of informal education

Verenikina, I. & Herrington, J. (2009) Computer games design and the imaginative play of young children. Paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children, Como, Italy.

Vogel, J.J. Vogel, D.S., Canon-Bowers, J., Bowers, C.A., Muse, K. & Wright, M. (2006) Computer gaming and interactive simulation for learning; a meta-analysis. Educational Computing Research. 34, 229-243

Watson, J.B. (1997) Behaviorism. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ.

Weiner, B. (1974) Achievement Motivation and Attribution Theory. General Learning Press, Morristown, NJ.

Wu, W-H., Hsiao, H-C., Wu, P-L., Lin, C-H., & Huang, S-H. (2011). Investigating the learning-theory foundations of game-based learning: a meta analysis. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2012), 28, 265-279. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

The Story So Far…

I know I have been absence from my blog for a while but there were a few things I had to get sorted out. Firstly from the feedback from my PR01 and Residential School I have moved the focus of my research slightly, which has meant a rethink in my research strategy and a movement in my literature review.

Then I went on holiday. Not ideal timing I know, but it was booked 6 months before I was accepted onto the doctorate programme and I thought in holidaying in September that I would avoid any clashes with deadlines. How wrong could I be! Shortly after I was due to return from holiday I had the deadline of PR02. As it wasn’t possible to extend the deadline due to work travel commitments meaning I would have little extra time to work on my progress report I packed my bags for my holiday complete with a lever arch folder full of learning design papers, my laptop, iPad, notebook, highlighters and pens.

Studying on holiday isn’t easy. It’s not the distraction of the sun or the beach that you have to contend with, it’s the 40 plus degree heats that dry out your highlighters and gel pens as you mark and write, leading you to crank up the air conditioning in your room to arctic blast setting. And then to top it all off you have to fight for bandwidth with hundreds of other guests in the hotel lobby so you can log on to an Ethics seminar that you need to partake in, praying that the broadband in the desert will hold out long enough to post your forum comments, resulting in you keeping the hours of the hotel cleaning staff just so you can study before the sun rises and the sun worshipers flock to the lobby to upload their photos from the night before to Facebook.

To top off this study challenge extravaganza I fell prey to the Tunisian tummy bug after being served tap water in a mineral water bottle on the night of day seven leading me to spend the rest of my holiday in solitary confinement. The bug stayed with me long after flying home and after submitting PR02.

So, where does this leave me? To be honest it left me in a frustrating place, lacking in time and energy. But it was at this precise moment in time that my supervisors picked me up, dusted me down, and helped talk me through the planning of the next stages of my research.

The biggest difficulty of my research is that the field I wish to research is limited in the way of literature which means I have to read around the field into a number of other fields to see if I can reframe theory into mine. No easy feat. This leads me on to my second biggest difficulty, I’m old school. I’m a printy paper off, highlight, reflect, and write notes down with ink and paper kinda girl. This will not work for the volume of papers I will have to scan, shortlist, and read. Ironic as I’m known to always be carrying and making notes in my tablet for work, and my phone is surgically attached to my hand at all times.

This therefore requires a cunning, yet simple plan. And here it is, my blog becomes the place for my mini-literature reviews. I keep all my notes here with the aim to write a mini-literature review weekly. No more written hand notes like the ones above. And as I have self imposed my weekly deadline, no more reading papers to discard. The scanning of the abstract, findings and conclusion will be my ruthless filtering system.

Oh, and it starts today. Next blog posting coming up shortly. I feel like the energiser bunny.

For now, I’m still…

Doctor in Waiting