Gamification: Learning and Motivational Theories

Abstract

Gamification is used in the learning and training environments in order to make the process of obtaining the new knowledge and developing new skills more interesting and attractive for learners. The reference to gamification in the training process is supported by learning and motivational theories that can be used to explain how games can contribute to achieving the higher results in acquiring new skills. The learning theory that explains the use of games in different environments is Bruner’s scaffolding theory. The motivational theory that is appropriate to explain the idea of gamification is Skinner’s theory based on the idea of operant conditioning.

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Learning and Motivational Theories

Gamification is used in the learning and training environments to make the process of obtaining new knowledge and developing new skills more interesting and attractive for learners (Bozarth, 2010). Thus, trainers prefer to use games to incorporate learning when they are inclined to refer to the motivational power of learners to achieve higher results in the training process. From this point, the reference to gamification in the training process is supported by learning and motivational theories that can be used to explain how games can contribute to achieving the higher results in acquiring new skills (Tang & Kay, 2014, p. 65). The learning theory that explains the use of games in different environments is Bruner’s scaffolding theory. The motivational theory that is appropriate to explain the idea of gamification is Skinner’s theory based on the idea of operant conditioning. In this context, it is important to state that the use of games in corporate learning and training sessions is an efficient practice because it is supported by traditional Bruner’s theory and Skinner’s motivational theory of operant conditioning.

Bruner’s Theory of Scaffolding

Basic Principles of the Theory

In the 1950s, Jerome Bruner proposed his theory of effective instruction while discussing the process of developing new skills with references to scaffolding. According to Bruner and his followers, the effectiveness of people’s learning is based on the quality of the provided support and teaching materials as well as guidance (Tsai, Kinzer, Hung, Chen, & Hsu, 2013, p. 117). In order to learn successfully, individuals need effective guides, models, and advice. Bruner noted that having learned the provided principles and rules, persons can act independently while completing stages in their learning process, or scaffolding (Tang & Kay, 2014, p. 66). Manipulating the received knowledge, a person tries to learn more and go further in studying. If one level of learning is completed, a person concentrates on solving tasks at the next level of study. As a result, the effectiveness of learning depends on the provided guidance, directions, task difficulties, and the level of independence offered to learners.

Relation of the Theory to Game Design

The scaffolding theory explains the use of games in learning environments because the elements of games are also designed and structured according to the principle of scaffolding. As a result, games can easily influence the players’ learning at different levels. Depending on the type of a game, the progress of players is often associated with their number of levels they completed (Tang & Kay, 2014, p. 65). The success is determined with the focus on understanding the rules of the game. Operating in the virtual environment, a player obtains knowledge while learning more rules and overcoming more levels. Games always include quests, tasks, and activities with the help of which players can learn more information necessary to achieve a higher status. Each following level is more difficult than the previous one, and a player acts according to the theory of scaffolding when he achieves the mastery in the virtual environment as a result of implementing rules learned during the game (Tang & Kay, 2014, p. 66). While discussing gamification in the corporate context, it is important to state that scaffolding is important to help learners obtain new knowledge and skills most appropriately, while focusing on the constant progress in learning.

Evidence of Games’ Association with Theory

Researchers note that gamification is based on the principle of scaffolding because to start playing, individuals need to learn rules of guidance, and their competence in the game activities develops gradually, depending on the level they complete (Tang & Kay, 2014, p. 65). According to Tsai and the group of researchers, games provide specific environments within which players can demonstrate their knowledge and develop skills while improving their background regarding rules, principles, and possible errors (Tsai et al., 2013, p. 117). In this case, the learned information is the key factor to make an individual act at different levels of the game in order to achieve higher results while playing. Games often provide interesting and challenging tasks, the completion of which serves to increase the player’s status (Tang & Kay, 2014, p. 65). Following the theory of scaffolding, it is possible to note that players develop their competence, knowledge, and skills step-by-step, and their success is often a result of the aspects of provided guidance.

Skinner’s Theory of Operant Conditioning

Basic Principles of the Theory

Burrhus Frederic Skinner’s motivational theory associated with the notion of operant conditioning was developed in the 1940s under the influence of the behaviorist approach. According to the theory, operant conditioning is a specific type of learning during which a person is motivated to develop the new behavior based on the significant external impact. This impact is realized in the form of reinforcement (Waddington, 2015). Skinner claimed that persons can learn new behaviors and develop new skills only when they are reinforced or motivated. According to the theorist, to learn effectively, persons need to be reinforced to respond appropriately to new situations such as new information, developed behavior, or skill (Kapp, 2012, p. 57). When individuals see the connection between their demonstration of learned skills and a reinforcer such as a reward, they are inclined to continue learning (Sailer, Hense, Mandl, & Klevers, 2013, p. 29). Therefore, different reinforcers are actively used to motivate learners.

Relation of the Theory to Game Design

Skinner’s theory of motivation is directly associated with the elements of games and the overall game design. Games usually include such elements as points and badges that demonstrate the player’s progress in the game. The other elements that demonstrate the progress of a player are leader boards and performance graphs. According to the theory of operant conditioning, when a player sees that his effort in performing tasks and completing quests results in gaining more points and progress on the performance scale, he is inclined to make more efforts to learn more and achieve higher results (Kapp, 2012, p. 57). Thus, the person becomes motivated to play more. When games are used in corporate learning sessions and training, such rewards work as external stimuli or motivators, and they are important to help players learn the new behavior and skills. Using a game, a player learns through focusing on reinforcers and avoiding punishment (Sailer et al., 2013, p. 29). When the training session ends, a learner can demonstrate such a result as the changed behavior or acquired new skills, and this progress is directly explained with references to Skinner’s theory of motivation.

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Evidence of Games’ Association with Theory

In his article, Waddington refers to Skinner as one of the main supporters of the use of games, especially video games, in the learning process. Waddington states that for

Skinner, “the recipe for pedagogical success was simple – successful video games were well-executed schedules of reinforcement built around a set of tasks” (Waddington, 2015, p. 1). Thus, Skinner was rather enthusiastic in his discussion of the motivational potential of video gaming for learning because of the idea of reinforcement. Seaborn and Fels also support the connection between the theory of operant conditioning and gamification while referring to the elements of points and progression (Seaborn & Fels, 2015, p. 21). In this context, it is possible to state the modern researchers directly associate principles of gamification with Skinner’s motivational theory because games are perfect examples of environments where reinforcers are directly used as badges, points, and bonuses in addition to the fixed progress according to the performance bars.

Conclusion

Those games that are used in corporate learning and training can be successfully implemented in organizations to help employees obtain new knowledge and develop the required skills. The main reason is that gamification has a significant theoretical background dependent on the learning theory proposed by Bruner and on the motivational theory developed by Skinner. According to these theories, the elements of games are usually designed in such a way that players can learn the desired behavior effectively, and they can be motivated to demonstrate the higher progress and achievements. Therefore, if trainers use games in their corporate learning and training sessions, it is possible to expect that players will learn the required information effectively and demonstrate the increased level of motivation because of the opportunity to become reinforced.

References

Bozarth, J. (2010). Social media for trainers: Techniques for enhancing and extending learning. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Sailer, M., Hense, J., Mandl, H., & Klevers, M. (2013). Psychological perspectives on motivation through gamification. Interaction Design and Architecture(s) Journal, 19(1), 28-37.

Seaborn, K., & Fels, D. (2015). Gamification in theory and action: A survey. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 74(1), 14-31.

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Tang, L., & Kay, J. (2014). Gamification: Metacognitive scaffolding towards long term goals? PALE, 1(1), 63-68.

Tsai, F., Kinzer, C., Hung, K., Chen, C., & Hsu, I. (2013). The importance and use of targeted content knowledge with scaffolding aid in educational simulation games. Interactive Learning Environments, 21(2), 116-128.

Waddington, D. (2015). Dewey and video games: From education through occupations to education through simulations. Educational Theory, 65(1), 1-20.

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StudyCorgi. (2020, October 27). Gamification: Learning and Motivational Theories. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/gamification-learning-and-motivational-theories/

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"Gamification: Learning and Motivational Theories." StudyCorgi, 27 Oct. 2020, studycorgi.com/gamification-learning-and-motivational-theories/.

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "Gamification: Learning and Motivational Theories." October 27, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/gamification-learning-and-motivational-theories/.

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StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Gamification: Learning and Motivational Theories'. 27 October.

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