How To Improve Learners' Motivation for eLearning Courses
Motivation has been and continues to be a widely studied area across many of life’s domains. Many motivation theories focus on the amount of motivation, with a larger quantity said to result in improved outcomes. However, as educators we should not focus on generating more motivation from our learners but instead focus on creating conditions that facilitate the internalization of motivation from within our learners.
Self-determination theory (SDT), an empirical theory of motivation by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, focuses on the degree in which behaviour is self-motivated and self-determined. SDT proposes that all humans require the satisfaction of three basic psychological needs, namely:
- Autonomy (a sense of being in control and freedom),
- Competence (a sense of being able to do something i.e. being competent),
- Relatedness (a sense of being associated or connected to others).
Research by Ryan, Rigby and Przybylski into the motivation to play video games (regardless of the game type) found that motivation to play is accounted for by how well the game satisfies our psychological needs:
- Autonomythe extent to which the game provides flexibility over movement and strategies, choice over task and goals, and rewards that provide feedback and not control.
- Competencethe extent to which tasks within the game provide ongoing challenges and opportunities for feedback.
- Relatednessthe extent to which the game provides interactions between players.
In addition to need satisfaction, their research also found that:
Presence – the extent to which the player feels within the game environment as opposed to being outside the game manipulating the controls, and
Intuitive controls – the extent to which the controls make sense and don’t interfere with feelings of presence, were also important as they allow players to focus on game play and access the need satisfaction provided by the game.
Contexts that satisfy all three basic needs will help support people’s actions, resulting in more sustained motivation over time and positive outcomes. Therefore, if we can use strategies to support competence, autonomy and relatedness needs we can assist learners to internalize their motivation of externally regulated activities.
Gamification is a technique that aims to replicate the motivational pull of video game play and apply it to eLearning experiences. While gamification has been met with some criticism, it seems that it’s more the application that is the problem rather than the technique itself. In order to successfully gamify an eLearning course we need to satisfy people’s basic psychological needs (as well as presence and having intuitive controls) in the same way that games do. We need to incorporate game mechanics into our eLearning courses. How can we do this?
15 Tips to Gamify An eLearning Course
Here are 15 tips of game mechanics that you could add to your eLearning course that can help improve learner motivation by satisfying basic psychological needs:
- Allowing players to make meaningful choices that have consequences
- Providing players with more than one way to reach their goal
- Allowing players to customise their environment e.g. choosing a character
- Encourage players to take risks and be creative in the game
- Making the rules and goals for players clear and structured
- Allowing multiple opportunities to complete parts of the game to allow players to build their competence
- Requiring players to frequently make decisions to keep the game moving forward
- Measuring player performance in multiple ways
- Increasing the difficulty as the player progresses through the game
- Linking progression (the reward) to player competence
- Providing players with constant and varied feedback and support
- Allowing players to review or replay earlier parts of the game
- Recognize player achievement e.g. experience points or badges
- Providing space/areas for player interaction and discussion e.g. forums
- Providing opportunities for player collaboration e.g. a group quest or challenge
Popular games use different combinations of game design elements in order to keep people motivated to play. If you substitute ‘player’ with ‘learner’ and ‘game’ with ‘eLearning’, from the above list, you will see how gamification can be incorporated into your eLearning experiences. Once the mechanics are selected (based on the needs of learners), you can then look to incorporate the aesthetic elements of game design in order to create presence and intuitive control/navigation which will support the game mechanics.
Motivation plays an important role during eLearning experiences and our challenge is to create eLearning that our learners want to engage in. As educators, we have an opportunity to assist learners with the internalization of motivation in the way we design and deliver learning experiences. While it’s not always easy, we need to use strategies that help satisfy the competence, autonomy and relatedness needs of our learners if we want to improve their motivation towards the eLearning module or eLearning course they are completing.
Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (2008) Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life’s domains. Canadian Psychology. 49 (1), 14-23.
Kapp, K. M. (2012) The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. Pfeiffer/ASTD
Przybylski, A. K., Rigby, C. S. & Ryan, R. M. (2010) A motivational model of video game engagement. Review of General Psychology. 14 (2), 154-166.