How Educational Video Games Can Increase Motivation to Learn

Post by Open Colleges on December 3rd, 2013

Educational videos could be the key to keeping students motivated and attentive, but it might just depend on how they use them, according to a new study by New York University researchers.

The study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, looked at the learning benefits of computer and mobile educational games. It showed that when students played video games either competitively against another student or collaboratively with their peers, they adopted a mindset that is conducive to learning.

Students who played competitively performed the best, although both the competitive and collaborative groups reported higher levels of interest and enjoyment than students who had played in individual conditions.

In one experiment, students were told to play on their own and get the best score they could. In the competitive group, however, students were instructed to compete against each other for the best score, while those in the collaborative group were told to work together to get the best score.

Participants were given 15 minutes to play, after which the game automatically stopped. They then took surveys to assess achievement goal orientations, situational interest and enjoyment, and future intentions regarding the video game.

After this they were given another 3-minute individual play session to test their after-game performance.

“We found support for claims that well-designed games can motivate students to learn less popular subjects, such as math, and that game-based learning can actually get students interested in the subject matter—and can broaden their focus beyond just collecting stars or points,” commented one of the study’s lead researchers, Jan Plass.

The researchers note that educational games may help to put students in a frame of mind that is conducive to learning rather than worrying about how smart they look to their peers.

Another benefit of collaborative play is that it seemed to increase the participants’ intention to play the game again and recommend it to someone else.

This points to the fact that educational games may not only help engage students in particular learning activities, but can also increase the likelihood of re-engagement over time, whether in or out of the classroom.

“The increased interest we observed in the competitive and collaborative conditions suggests that educational games can promote a desire to learn and intentions to re-engage in the material, and in the long run, may create independent and self-determined learners,” said Paul O’Keefe, another lead researcher on the study.

Of course, as with all empirical studies, there are limitations, and the researchers point out that their results cannot be generalized.

“Our work seeks to identify the design elements that need to be included to make sure a game is well designed for a particular audience and content,” said Plass.

“Although we found a host of beneficial outcomes associated with playing the game with a partner, our results may be limited to the educational content of the game, its design, or our experimental procedure.

Future research will need to examine design features that optimize learning across curricula.”

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