Archive for August, 2011

Go with the ‘Flow’ – Games for learning and fun!

A unique way to create opportunities for involvement for a learner is to engage him/her by overlaying game dynamics onto the experience.  Since I have laid out the characteristics of Flow in my previous post, I will note here that the third point works exceptionally well for integrating game dynamics in learning experiences. If the activity is engagement with an object in a museum, then the level of skill involved in that engagement must balance in order to master Flow.

Introducing game dynamics allow for this balancing act to occur.  A good game allows a player to practice a skill in the first level and then becomes more challenging over time, causing the player to develop their skills to master the game. The goal of successful game design balances actions and outcomes and integrates those into a larger context (Salen & Zimmerman, 2005).

One of the foremost writers/lecturers on employing game dynamics in education, James Paul Gee talks about how games are embedded into a material, social and cultural world (check out his lecture at NYU; it is very insightful).  Allowing learners — and now players — to explore multiple paths through learning activities gives them the opportunity to create meaning that builds from their personal experience.  Learners/Players engaged in a game must pay attention to details, problem solve, examine different points of view, and overcome challenges.  All of these skills can lead to powerful forms of learning, but only if the activity is carefully implemented into a program that considers how to use it effectively and what learning outcomes should be achieved.

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Intrinsic Motivation: what does it mean to be motivated in a space and why are learners motivated to learn?

A key goal in any educational setting (online, in class, wherever!) is to support the learner in finding what intrinsically motivates them to learn. Educators are not drill sergeants forcing information into the brain of the learner, but in a John Dewey-inspired way are cast as support systems who create conduits of learning to help learners realize their potential. But this process must be self-reflective and include a step that helps learners to discover their own personal motivation that inspires them.

So what does it mean to be motivated in a space and why are learners motivated to learn?

To begin to answer this question I researched Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of Flow, which defines the perfect state in which a person is at his/her personal best. The theory takes into account the motivation behind reaching this state and the feelings associate with it. For reference, the main characteristics of the state of flow are:

  • The quality of the experience is rich and diverse
  • There is a clear purpose for the experience (including specific goals, of which the learner is aware)
  • There is a balance between the individual’s level of skill and the challenge posed by the activity
  • The individual has a positive state of mind

Intrinsic motivation comes from a sense of curiosity about an object or topic that creates interest, which with sustained engagement creates opportunities for learning (Csikszentmihalyi, in Intrinsic Motivation in Museums: why does one want to learn?, 1999).  A study about motivation in learners by Dweck & Leggett further substantiates this idea by stating that when a person is intrinsically motivated, they actually pursue learning goals.

Although, much like what I discussed in my previous post, Falk and Dierking argue that the link between the content (the topic, the object, the information presented along with either and the curation of both) and the learner’s personal experience must be explicit for substantive learning to occur.

Technology, therefore, must be the bridge between the topic/objects and the learner that makes the connections explicit and allow room for personalized learning.

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Situated Experiences – Connecting to a Learner’s World

My previous post builds a foundation for constructivist learning and shares a few ideas of how technology can be used to enhance this type of learning. But we can expand the framework and think about how to use mobile technology to connect the activities that learners are in engaged with every day.

All learners bring with them a personal context that influences how they engage with new information. Mobile technology therefore must be flexible enough to allow them to connect their understanding of this new information to their personal context (both on and offline) and build their knowledge in different ways.

Looking to Falk and Dierking’s theories of learning in museums, they suggests that mobile technology find ways to connect to a learner’s social groups. Active learning is as much about discovering new information as it is about sharing and discussing it. Social media sites are one way to support sharing of information in social groups.  And with the use of mobile devices, learners stay active in the learning process by allowing them to participate in their own time frame. Additionally, Falk and Dierking suggest that mobile learning must help to support learners’ interests both online and offline and support their motivation for accessing the information in the first place.

The motivation for a learner accessing information and staying engaged with learning activities is incredibly fascinating. I will venture further into this topic in my next post, looking at intrinsic motivation and “gamification” of educational content.

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