‘Motivation Theory’ Driving Effectiveness of Gamification


The days of children and adolescents being told to scale back the time they spend on video games may be in the past as teachers and parents begin to recognize the educational benefits certain games can have.

DimensionU is an example of an educational platform used by schools to help students learn math and language arts, with Common Core standards in mind. Students can access the program at school and home, writes David Nagel for The Journal.

Evidence of the success of these types of programs has come in Hawaii’s Nanakuli-Waoamae school district. The nine schools recently started using DimensionU with students in grades 3-10 and have seen improvements in student performance.

“I am really impressed with how DimensionU helps to support the implementation of common core instruction and how engaged students are when using the program,” said Ann Mahi, superintendent of the Nanakuli-Waianae Complex Area

GlassLab is another company that focuses on developing games to help educate its users.  However, Michael John, the head of creative product development at GalssLab, is adamant that the concept of “gamification” isn’t the secret to making education fun or effective.

He disagrees with the concept of simply adding game-like qualities to an otherwise boring lesson in school. Instead, he insists that learning has innate, game-like qualities that need to be brought forth by teachers and game developers.

Michael John writes in Tech Crunch that even a concept like argumentation is embedded in adventure or battle games that aren’t directly meant to teach that concept.

When learners engage in battle to decide key decisions (like ‘what protein should we eat on Mars?’ or ‘what should we do with a robot gone rogue?’), little do they know they are exercising philosopher Stephen Toulmin’s method of reasoning through argument. But they are. And the game is as engaging and entertaining as the best of commercial entertainment software.

Over 3,000 schools worldwide have incorporated games like Minecraft into their curriculum. The game provides education in creativity, economics and collaboration that may be more effective than traditional classroom teaching, writes Charlotte Lytton for CNN.

The effectiveness of games for education seems to be dependent on the player’s motivation to keep playing the game. For example, while students may not be interested in learning about the Electoral College in a traditional classroom lesson, when the lesson is ‘gamified,’ students become motivated to perform tasks and learn about the subject. This concept is called Motivation Theory, writes Daniel Griffin in a Virtual Ashridge whitepaper.

Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, David Pink describes a hierarchy of motivational factors including: 1) Purpose, where an individual must feel they have a meaningful existence; 2) Autonomy, where an individual must feel free to choose their own path without feeling swayed or controlled; and 3) Mastery, where an individual must feel they are getting better at something that matters to them.

Both Maslow’s and Pink’s theories state that an individual is motivated by needs or wants. If game developers are able to tap into these motivations they can successfully get gamers to act in certain ways — including being enticed into learning.