Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Learning When Serious: Psychophysiological Evaluation of a Technology-Enhanced Learning Game

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Learning When Serious: Psychophysiological Evaluation of a Technology-Enhanced Learning Game

Article excerpt


In today's global market, human capital is a recognized strategic asset in companies. Learning and training play a foundational role in talent management, but establishing effective learning strategies across enterprises remains a costly challenge without measurable return.

To support the effort to build such strategies, we report on an evaluation of a game-based Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) platform, which teaches about soft skills using project management scenario simulations. Based on positive outcomes from a similar previous study (Cowley, Ravaja, & Heikura, 2013), we designed a combined-methods approach to the evaluation. A multi-trial protocol allowed a repeated measures self-report battery alongside the measurement of physiological signals to index psychological constructs. The two methods combined are a complementary data-gathering tool, because self-report is subjective, discrete and explicit while psychophysiology is objective, continuous and implicit. Thus the study was carried out to examine whether psychophysiological recordings obtained during serious game play predict (short-term) learning outcomes as measured by a pre- and posttest assessment tool. We found, among others, a relationship between mental workload and learning. This has important implications for researchers interested in measuring learning (unobtrusively) in future research.

The experiment used a within subjects design based on adjustment of the participant's knowledge of project management via the learning platform. The independent variables were the physiological effects on the player of exposure to source of topic-relevant education (namely the game), while the dependent variable was the knowledge of the participant. Learning was assessed using questionnaires of two types: one set applied before and after play to test learning performance, and one set of self-report questionnaires to establish the 'felt' experience of the participant.

We begin by describing the state of the art underpinning this experiment. We cover experiment methodology and then detail our results under three themes: psychophysiological predictors of learning; test-based assessment of learning; subjective mood self-report. Finally we offer our discussion and conclusion.

State of the art

Educational game efficacy has been well debated (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2006; Gee, 2006). McQuiggan, Lee, & Lester (2006) draw a parallel between the factors describing student engagement and those involved in game play. However learning does not necessarily follow engagement, as argued by Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark (2006) who point out that discovery, problem-based, experiential and enquiry-based techniques are the main tools of games, but all require prior knowledge on the part of the student to evoke learning. Some suggest the solution is in scaffolding the game, i.e., instructional support during learning to reduce cognitive load (O'Neil, Wainess, & Baker, 2005).

Given recent positive results (Blunt, 2009; Ritterfeld, 2009)--and bearing in mind that some form of learning is almost always part of play (Koster, 2005)--the relevant question becomes: how will a given game work? Will a particular game teach retained, transferable skills which are the ones intended by the designers, or will it teach skills only valuable within the game context? This has become a strong theme in serious games research (Guillen-Nieto & Aleson-Carbonell, 2012).

When examining how such design variants actually work 'in the field', the players' psychological and physiological experience is of central interest, motivating the need to objectively measure this subjectivity. For the assessment of subjective experience, e.g. emotions, there are three observable domains (Bradley & Lang, 2000): i) a subjective cognitive experience (e.g. assessed by questionnaires), ii) behavioural expressions (i.e. actions and behavioural patterns assessed by implicit techniques) and iii) psychophysiological patterns. …

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