Gaming With Learning Design

This week I turned my attention to gamification. The purpose of this interest is through reviewing papers on learning design whilst on holiday 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 wasn’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.


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