Math Learning Environment with Game-Like Elements: An Incremental Approach for Enhancing Student Engagement and Learning Effectiveness

Dovan Rai, Joseph E. Beck

Educational games intend to make learning more enjoyable, but carry a potential cost of compromising learning efficiency by consuming both instructional time and student cognitive resources. Therefore, instead of creating an educational game, we create a learning environment with game-like elements, the aspects of games that are engaging, but that hopefully do not negatively impact the learning effectiveness of the system. We present an approach of incrementally making a tutor more game-like, and present an evaluation to estimate the effect of game-like elements in terms of their benefits such as enhancing engagement and learning as well as their costs such as distraction and working memory overload. We developed four different versions of a math tutor with different degrees of game-likeness, such as adding narrative and visual feedback. The four systems were pedagogically equivalent consisting of 27 main tutor problems with the same hint and bug messages and mini tutorial lessons. Based on a study with 252 students, we found that students reported more satisfaction with a more “game-like” tutor. Students also took an 11-item pretest and posttest and the students with the most game-like tutor have significant learning gain but there is no reliable difference between the different versions of the tutor.

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