Educational Video Games Boost Learning Motivation
November 7, 2013

Collaborative Educational Video Games Boost Students’ Desire To Learn

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Playing competitive or collaborative math video games enhances students’ learning, performance and motivation, according to a new study by researchers at New York University and the City University of New York.

The study found students who play these games competitively or collaboratively with another player – as opposed to alone – adopted a mastery mindset that is highly conducive to learning. Furthermore, students' interest and enjoyment in playing the math video game increased when they played with another student. The findings, which appear in the Journal of Educational Psychology, suggest new ways in which computer, console or mobile educational games may generate learning benefits.

"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," said study author Jan Plass, a professor in NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

The researchers focused on how students' motivation to learn, as well as their interest and performance in math, was affected by playing a math video game either individually, competitively or collaboratively. Specifically, they examined two main types of motivational orientations – mastery goal orientation, in which students focus on learning, improvement and the development of abilities; and performance goal orientation, in which students focus on validating their abilities. For instance, in the classroom a student may be focused on improving their math skills (mastery), or, instead trying to prove how smart they are or trying to avoid looking incompetent compared their classmates (performance).

Researchers consistently find that a mastery goal orientation facilitates learning because students seek to amass knowledge and develop their abilities. They also view mistakes and difficulties as part of the learning process, as opposed to a sign of their lack of ability.

By contrast, performance goal orientations may hinder the learning process, particularly for those who do not feel competent. For example, students who fear appearing less intelligent than their classmates may avoid opportunities that would actually bolster their understanding of the material.

Scholarship has shown how typical educational environments, such as classrooms, can cause some students to adopt stronger performance goal orientations, rather than mastery goal orientations. This has led researchers to seek new ways to promote students' mastery goal orientations and lessen the performance goal orientations that lead students to avoid potential learning opportunities.

One possible candidate is educational video games. Although the competitive focus of these games might appear to result in performance rather than mastery orientations, the researchers wanted to explore the idea given the popularity of gaming among school-aged students.

The current study involved middle-school students who were asked play the video game FactorReactor, which is designed to build math skills through problem solving. To test the impact of different settings on learning, the students were randomly assigned to play the game alone, competitively against another student, or collaboratively with another student. The researchers controlled for students' abilities by conducting a pre-test.

The findings revealed that students who played the math game either competitively or collaboratively reported the strongest mastery goal orientations, indicating they had adopted an optimal mindset for learning while playing the video game with others.

The results also showed that students playing in both competitive and collaborative conditions experienced the greatest interest and enjoyment, while students playing under competitive situations performed best in the game overall.

"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 study co-lead author Paul O'Keefe, an NYU postdoctoral fellow at the time of the study, now at Stanford University's Department of Psychology.

"Educational games may be able to help circumvent major problems plaguing classrooms by placing students in a frame of mind that is conducive to learning rather than worrying about how smart they look," he added.

Plass cautioned about generalizing the study’s results, saying additional research is needed.

"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," he said. "Future research will need to examine design features that optimize learning."