Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Gamification and educational motivation

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Gamification and educational motivation:
How can gamification enhance educational motivation?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Case study

Bob is an 18-year-old boy who is not interested in school. He has been reported by his teachers as a student who shows no interest in schoolwork or classes. His lack of interest has severely affected his high school grades of all classes so far. He reminisced about his primary school days where he could learn from school while earning rewards (i.e. stickers). Bob is curious if a gamified version of his new mathematics class will help boost his engagement in learning and ultimately lead to better grades.

Educational games are appealing to educators as traditional methods of teaching are often ineffective and boring, with schools having trouble keeping students engaged and motivated (Bridgeland et al., 2006). Games can provide a motivational boost by utilising game elements to encourage people to engage in them for the enjoyment of play. This chapter explores how gamification can help increase education motivation among students. It first defines key terms, then explores motivation theories related to gamification and education. Finally, it discusses ideas on answering the problem statement[state what this is] as well as challenges that may arise.

Focus questions:

  • What is gamification?
  • What is educational motivation?
  • How can gamification enhance educational motivation?
  • What problems does gamification face in education?

What is gamification?[edit | edit source]

Gamification applies lessons from the gaming domain into non-game situations (Robson et al., 2015). The main goal of gamifying a real-world situation is to motivate specific behaviours using elements from games. These game elements can help retain the attention of participants. Some common game elements are points, badges, leaderboards and so forth (Werbach & Hunter, 2012). Gamification is about implementing game design elements and game rules in real life. The use of gamification solutions helps to increase the involvement of users or employees. The main benefits of gamification:

  • increased commitment
  • increased satisfaction
  • the ability to monitor progress
  • increase in productivity and satisfaction
  • long-term loyalty of participants

Educational motivation[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

What is education motivation?[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. An example of gamification by using stickers to reward students for good behavior.

Education motivation refers to students being interested in wanting to study, learn, and value education. There are two subgroups of motivation which are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

Intrinsic motivation means doing an activity for its own sake.

  1. Intrinsic motivation is an important phenomenon for educators to understand. Because enhancing this type of motivation can increase high-quality learning and creativity among students[grammar?] (Ryan & Deci, 2000a).
  2. Studies have shown that students who have intrinsic motives for learning are statistically more likely to find meaning in their work and face new challenges (Simons et al., 2005; Yeager & Bundick, 2009).

Extrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

Extrinsic motivation means doing an activity for an anticipated reward.

  1. Extrinsic motivation can offer an initial boost for students to engage in an activity and can help sustain motivation throughout an activity (Ti, & Lynch, 2016) {{gr} see Figure 1. as an example of an extrinsic reward.
  2. However, extrinsic motivation has been shown to conflict with intrinsic motivation. A classic study shows evidence of this phenomena (Deci, 1975)[explain?]. Cognitive-evaluation theory helps explain this idea by exploring the effects of external rewards on intrinsic motivation. It proposes that events that decrease perceived self-determination will reduce intrinsic motivation, whereas increased perceived self-determination will rise intrinsic motivation (Deci et al., 2001).

Motivation theories[edit | edit source]

Some motivational theories are relevant to the learning domain such as:

Positive reinforcement[edit | edit source]

Operant conditioning (also known as instrumental conditioning) is a type of learning that involves strengthening a behaviour through reinforcement of punishment. Positive reinforcement involves adding a stimulus as a reward for performing the desired behaviour. The rewards increase the chance of the behaviour being performed again (Skinner, 1965). Positive reinforcement is quintessential for education games as it rewards students for actively engaging them providing a motive to pursue further in a course. For example, Chen and colleagues (2017) found that a web-based trading card game was effective in motivating students to learn English vocabulary by rewarding them with cards after using the learning system. Also found that it improved their overall learning outcome[grammar?]

Growth mindset[edit | edit source]

Dweck (1999) proposed a theory that students can have a fixed or growth mindset towards various activities. For example, a student may have a fixed mindset on their ability to do well in English while simultaneously having a growth mindset in playing an instrument. Students with fixed mindsets deem intelligence as unchangeable and therefore will not strive to increase their learning (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). They will also perceive failure as a lack of intelligence [grammar?] demotivating them to try harder in future tasks (Dweck, 2006).

Conversely, students with a growth mindset believe that their intelligence is malleable and able to grow. They believe that failure can be a motivator to keep learning [grammar?] eventually leading to success (Plaks & Stecher, 2007; Dweck, 2006). Educational games can help nurture a growth mindset by providing feedback to students when they fail at a task and improve next time (O’Rourke et al., 2014). Furthermore, educational games provide students with a low stake environment where failure is not severely punished instead encouraged to keep going. Comparison and competition can promote growth learning by stimulating the desire to try harder in theory (Chapman & Rich, 2018).

Flow theory[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Diagram of flow theory

Csikszentmihalyi (1990) proposed the flow theory which states being completely absorbed in an activity losing a sense of time (see Figure 2). To reach this state there needs to be a balance of one's perceived skill and challenges. If the task is deemed too easy and requires little skill the individual will experience boredom. However, if the task is too hard and the person does not have the skills to conquer it then the person will feel anxious. Beside balancing skills and challenges, having immediate feedback and rewards is one of the important elements to reach the state of flow (Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). Thus, educational games can adjust the level of difficulty to suit the needs of the students to reach the flow state faster.  

Studies have shown the positive effects of flow on student learning with educational games. Students that[grammar?] have high levels of flow have increased engagement and learning outcomes (Rossin et al., 2009). Hamari and colleagues (2016) argue that there is not a clear link between immersion in-game and learning. Instead, they suggest that the perceived challenge is a strong predictor of learning outcomes. Having students play together can create an even stronger flow called ‘group flow’ - collective flow experience in a group. Chan et al. (2019) study found that when participants played multiplayer games they had increased flow and better learning outcomes. This is because students were allowed to communicate during play and solve problems together giving them confidence to complete challenges.

Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Self-Determination Theory venn diagram

Self-determination theory (SDT) explains how internal [say what?] someone behaviour is self-determined and self-motivated (Ryan & Deci, 2000b) (See Figure 3.). SDT proposes that people's innate psychological needs help explain their self-motivation. If all three psychological needs are satisfied then optimal growth will form which are:


  • Control over one own life and decisions


  • Desire to be part of other people's lives and sense of belonging


  • Wanting to achieve and master skills

Gamification, in theory, can satisfy the three psychological needs by providing students with challenging games. Well constructed educational games allow students to have control of what they do and encourage others to play with them. While also providing them with challenging levels that encourage students to master them[grammar?]. Unfortunately, little research has been conducted to support the idea that gamification in an educational context can satisfy psychological needs through play. With that being said, Van and Zaman (2017) produce nine gamification heuristics based on SDT that game designers can follow in the hopes of increasing educational motivation among students.

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Quiz 1

Choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

Which motivation theory is NOT related to gamification in educational motivation?

Erikson's psychosocial stage theory
Operant conditioning
Growth mindset
Flow theory

How can gamification enhance educational motivation?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Game elements[edit | edit source]

To understand how game developers can utilise gamification to its fullest potential, firstly will[say what?] must understand game elements. Game elements are used to make a game more entertaining and engaging for users. The most popular game elements in educational games are points, badges, and leaderboards (Dicheva et al., 2015). They are the foundation of making any educational game engaging for students which in turn increases their motivation to learn.

Points[edit | edit source]

Points are used to quantify a user performance on a task. It is an essential element to any game as it gives players immediate feedback and visible progress. In gamification, points can be broken down into 5 subsystems: experience points, redeemable points, skill points, karma points, and reputation points (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011). All these systems have pros and cons and fulfill different roles. Studies have shown that points giving immediate feedback and visible progress can be a great motivator to continue a desired behaviour (Allam et al., 2015; Boendermaker et al., 2013). Though it can decrease intrinsic motivation if people see them as too controlling (Eisenberger & Cameron, 1996)[grammar?].

Badges[edit | edit source]

Badges are used to display achievement of a task. These tasks can be anything ranging from achieving a challenging task, participation, contributing to threads and so forth. Performance-related badges are the most popular form of a badge as it gives users a sense of progress with badges acting as reminders how far they have come (Iosup & Epema, 2014). Studies have shown that badges can be effective at engaging students in learning and be a motivator in carrying out future tasks (Santos et al., 2013; Gibson et al., 2013).

Leaderboards[edit | edit source]

Leaderboards are used to display scores of a user performance compared to other users. It drives its success by sparking competition between users and giving people an extra incentive with the reward of being on the top. Just like badges, this element can act as a milestone and a repeated sense of accomplishment with the ultimate goal of ‘winning the game’. O'Donovan et al. (2013) found that leaderboards ranked highest among motivating[say what?] learners. Landers and Landers (2015) found that students would engage in their project more often when compared on a leaderboard than those who did not.

Engagement[edit | edit source]

Students often reported that education is uninteresting because the education system is repetitive and monotonous (Sharp et al., 2017). Even the highest level of education university students experience boredom (Sharp et al., 2016). An explanation for this could be that terminology is more technical at the highest level of education creating frustration thus reducing engagement in a subject. Boredom in education is problematic as students' grades are affected, learning becomes impaired and student potential achievement is not reached (Reinhard et al., 2014).

Gamification can address this issue by creating a new environment for students to play with while making it different for each year group to avoid repetitiveness. However, games can fall into the same problem of feeling formulaic [grammar?] that makes education games too similar from one another (i.e. same game elements applied the same way) making them boring to play (Frazer et al., 2007). Therefore, it is important for games to specifically cater to a particular subject with care on balancing ‘gamifying’ and learning. However, this is subjective and some games have been shown to use multiple game elements and succeed while others have not (Frazer et al., 2007).

Intrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

Gamification can also enhance students intrinsic motivation from extrinsic rewards. For example, Lieberoth (2015) study found that framing activities as games there was an implied increase in intrinsic motivation due to students reporting more engagement. Another study found that stimulation gathered from game elements like leaderboards made students excited and motivated to work thus increasing intrinsic motivation (Buckley & Doyle, 2014). However, more research is needed to determine if gamification can affect intrinsic motivation. This is because, according to the SDT model, gamification can increase intrinsic motivation as it fulfils the psychological needs of competence and autonomy. Nevertheless, studies have found no or negative relationship with intrinsic motivation and gamification (Hanus & Fox, 2015; Mekler et al., 2017).

Quiz 2

Game elements are the cornerstone of every educational game


Challenges with gamification in education[edit | edit source]

It is important to highlight that simply gamifying everything does not automatically make students engage in their work. As mentioned earlier it's not always clear how to make a game that is interesting for the target audience that varies in year group but also a balance of education and gaming. There is a trap when gamifying everything as it could merely mask terms like assignments as quests and test scores as experience points which does not contribute to student’s learning goals (Mak, 2013). It is a pitfall that is easy to fall into due to the simple nature of replacing labels without considering how it will motivate students to learn better. Therefore, game elements must serve the purpose of putting the student interest first over an organisation to achieve results.

Studies have shown that gamification can sometimes enhance student engagement but not necessarily produce good results. For example, Barata and his colleagues (2013) found that, when introducing a gamified course to engineering students, the level of engagement increased however students' grades were not significantly improved. Berkling and Thomas (2016) also used a gamification platform for software engineering students and found that the program was not interesting enough and thus students did not find it helpful. They also noted that students who were taught the traditional way for more than 12 years did not quickly adjust to the new ways of learning. Furthermore, they noted that students saw gamification as an unnecessary hindrance towards studying for their exams

Berkling and Thomas' (2016) study highlights another issue that gamification has to face, which is changing the norms of education and teaching. Schools have to be convinced that gamification is teaching students and not giving them an excuse to play games with the education part being part of the background. Also, students are motivated to play these games for the learning content. However, if educational games are high quality and show results then it can help solve some of this concern.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Gamification can enhance educational motivation by utilising game elements, understanding engagement and intrinsic motivation. Understanding several motivational theories has shown that combining game elements with education can benefit students in motivating them to learn. More research is required to confirm if gamification affects intrinsic motivation due to the high amounts of external rewards that are provided from games. Also, there are unique challenges that game designers will face when creating a game that is a balance of learning and gamifying. Nevertheless, gamification is a viable avenue for increasing educational motivation among students.

See also[edit | edit source]

Adolescent educational motivation (Book chapter, 2018)

Autonomy support and educational motivation in primary school (Book chapter, 2019)

Cognitive-evaluation theory (Wikipedia)

Exergaming and fitness motivation (Book chapter, 2019)

Self-Determination theory (Wikipedia)

References[edit | edit source]

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External links[edit | edit source]

Gamification in Education: A Systematic Mapping Study (Journal article)

The Power of Gamification in Education (Youtube video)

The surprising truth about what motivates us (Youtube video)

What Is Gamification [Definition, Examples, Common Elements ] (Gamerseo article)