The Role of Sub-problems: Supporting Problem Solving in Narrative-Centered Learning Environments

Lucy R. Shores, Kristin F. Hoffmann, John L. Nietfeld, James C. Lester

Narrative-centered learning environments provide an excellent platform for both content-knowledge and problem-solving skill acquisition, as these experiences require students to apply learned material while solving real-world problems. Solving complex problems in an open-ended environment can be a challenging endeavor for elementary students given limitations in their cognitive skills. A promising potential solution is providing students with explicit quests, or proximal goals of a larger, more complex problem-solving activity. Quests have the potential to scaffold the process by breaking down the problem into cognitively manageable units, providing useful, frequent feedback, and maintaining motivation and the novelty of the experience. The aim of this research was to investigate the role of quests as a means for supporting situational interest and content-knowledge acquisition during interactions with a narrative-centered learning environment. Of the 299 5th grade students who interacted with Crystal Island, a narrative-centered learning environment for science, it was found that students who completed more quests exhibited significant increases in content learning and had higher levels of situational interest. These preliminary findings suggest potential educational and motivational advantages for integrating quest-like sub-problems into the design of narrative-centered learning environments.

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