Author: Paras, Brad
Game environments have great potential to support immersive learning experiences. Learning can be defined as "the act, process, or experience of gaining knowledge or skill." To engage in this act of gaining knowledge or skill, learners must be motivated. According to Chan & Ahern (1999), "When people are intrinsically motivated to learn, they not only learn more, they also have a more positive experience." Games meet both these tests for effective learning environments: they are active experiences, and they have the capacity to provide intrinsic motivation. MOTIVATION & FLOW To motivate is to "provide with an incentive". In traditional instructional design practice, motivation is often considered as a preliminary step in the instructional process (Chan & Ahern, 1999). Intrinsic motivation, however, focuses on the development of motivation throughout the entire instructional process. To understand motivation in instruction, the authors of this paper look at the ARCS Model of Motivational Design developed by John M. Keller. The ARCS Model identifies four components for motivating instruction: attention strategies, relevance strategies, confidence strategies, and satisfaction strategies (Keller, 1983). A well-designed game can include all of these strategies. A well-designed educational game will meld them with the desired learning outcomes. Chan and Ahern (1999) suggest Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory as a tool for understanding and implementing motivation. The authors of this paper see Flow Theory as a critical factor in the development of effective educational game environments. Flow Theory describes a state where the subject experiences a perfect balance between challenge and ability. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. Consistent with the ARCS model, applications of this theory focus on providing the learner with appropriate challenge, setting concrete goals, structuring control, and providing clear feedback (Chan & Ahern 1999). To learn, students need to be motivated, and an appropriate level of challenge combined with a clear and attainable goal is highly motivating. Since flow experiences share these key aspects of motivational design, they can be described as intrinsically motivating. Instructional designers can utilize game environments that support flow and enable learning. Learning environments have been largely limited to the classroom model: the teacher stands in front of the class and transmits knowledge to a listening group of students. To support a flow state, a learning environment must closely match each student’s skill level, and provide tasks with clear goals and immediate individual feedback. Houser and De Loach review Donald Norman's work: Things that make us Smart. Norman identifies seven basic requirements of a learning environment. They note Norman's call for interaction, feedback, goals, motivation, challenge, engagement and concentration and conclude that games demonstrate effective learning environments (Houser & Deloach, 1998). GAME, PLAY, AND LEARNING A game is "a system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome." (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004). The goal of successful game design is the creation of meaningful play (ibid). Johann Huizinga (1955) defines play as "a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious’, but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly". The authors of this paper argue for educational game environments that combine play, motivation, flow, and learning. Lepper and Malone (1987) illustrate four key attributes that educational games can employ: challenge, sensory and cognitive curiosity, a sense of control, and the use of fantasy to reinforce and stimulate. The diagram below illustrates the potential for well-designed educational games: Games > Play > Flow > Motivation > Learning Games foster play and challenge, which produces a state of flow, which increases motivation, which supports the learning process. The juncture of learning outcomes with well-designed game mechanics can result in learning experiences which are intrinsically motivating. The challenge for educational designers is to build environments where the dynamics of learning are fully integrated with the dynamics of game-play. Lepper and Malone describe a term called ‘Fantasy’. Fantasy is what players first experience when they play a game. They see the graphics, hear the sounds, and interact with the world. Many educational games implement a form of educational ‘sugar coating’ known as exogenous fantasies - the game is merely used to package and improve the educational setting (Rieber, 1996). In contrast, games that employ endogenous fantasies weave the content into the game. One cannot tell where the game stops and the content begins (ibid). These games integrate the learning dynamics within the 'magic circle' [Salen and Zimmerman (2004), Huzuinga (1955)] that constitutes an immersive game world. If learning is situated outside of the magic circle, the game’s powerful ability to draw the learner into a state of flow is broken, and the learning becomes an incidental intrusion. In a fully integrated educational game, ‘stealth learning’ can occur naturally within the context of the game world (Prensky, 2001 as cited in De Castell & Jenson, 2003). The educational possibilities that videogames provide are similar to those known in ‘active learning’. Active learning is student participation in the learning and teaching process, where students themselves engage with and, to an extent, create their own learning experience (Mitchell, 2002). One of the difficulties with flow experiences is the lack of reflection that is able to take place while one is in a flow state. The authors cite the design of a 3D education hockey game that teaches about concussion. In the game, reflection is incorporated into the immersive 'magic circle' of the game play. Players that engage in concussive activities are forced to sit for a while and consider the seriousness and the implications of concussion effects, just a player would be forced to sit in a live hockey game. The act of reflection is incorporated into both the core mechanics of the game, and the fantasy experience of the game world. This is an example of an integrated design approach, which reconciles flow, learning, and endogenous motivation within an immersive game experience. 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Contact: Brad Paras, SIAT - Simon Fraser University Surrey, email@example.com
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