Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

An Investigation of the Interrelationships between Motivation, Engagement, and Complex Problem Solving in Game-Based Learning

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

An Investigation of the Interrelationships between Motivation, Engagement, and Complex Problem Solving in Game-Based Learning

Article excerpt


Proponents have argued that massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) possess unique affordances to address complex problem-solving skill development that our current educational system is failing to provide (e.g., OECD, 2004) by drawing on a powerful pedagogy: situated learning. It has also been argued that game-based situated learning environments promote student motivation and engagement (e.g., Gee, 2007; Greenfield, 2010). Unfortunately, very few researchers began to move the discussion of complex problem solving beyond descriptive research; the majority of current discourse in the field can be summed up as "games are problems being solved by players [and games are engaging]; therefore, playing games will help [and motivate] people be better problem solvers" (Hung & van Eck, 2010, p. 228). However, this is not sufficient to guide our development of educational games to directly address complex problem solving and student motivation as learning outcomes. In the context of game-based learning, the relationships among problem solving, motivation, and engagement are far more complex than they appear at first.

We argue that complex problem solving and associated cognitive processing and motivational requirements are most impacted by gameplay; and that interactivity captures the most salient features of gameplay as it relates to complex problem solving and motivation. Hence, the purpose of this study was to investigate the interrelationships among complex problem solving, motivation, and engagement in the context of game-based learning and offer an empirically-validated framework that can guide future studies and instructional design efforts.

MMOGs as complex and ill-structured problem-solving environments

It has been argued convincingly that games serve as situated problem-solving environments, in which players are immersed in a culture and way of thinking (Dede, 2009; Gee, 2007). This is especially true for massively multiplayer online games, which are situated in complex and ill-structured problems. For instance, in the McLarin's Adventures MMOG that served as the testbed for this study, students play the role of researchers who were sent on a mission to explore the habitability of earth-like planets outside of our solar system. The problem is ill-structured because both the given state and the desired goal state are not clearly defined. The desired goal state is vaguely defined as finding a planet, on which a settlement area can be built for the humans so that this planet can serve as a colony for the people of the earth. In the first game narrative, the players detect a planet, on which atmospheric conditions (i.e., [O.sub.2] and C[O.sub.2] levels) allow for humans to breathe comfortably. When they land on the planet, the players can infer from the visibly-apparent characteristics of the surface that the planet resembles a tropical island on the earth.

This problem is also very complex due to the large number of highly inter-connected variables affecting the problem state. This means that changes in one variable affect the status of many other related variables; therefore, it is very difficult to anticipate all possible consequences of any action. Furthermore, not all of the variables may lend themselves to direct observation. Often, knowledge about the symptoms is available, from which one has to infer the underlying state. Dealing with intransparency of the problem variables and the interrelationships among them is often difficult due to time-delayed effects; not every action shows immediate consequences. Hence, complex problem-solving situations often change decremental or worsen, forcing a problem solver to act immediately, under considerable time pressure. Therefore, complex problem-solving situations bear multiple goals, some of which could be contradictory requiring a reasonable trade-off. All of these factors make complex ill-structured problem solving very challenging (Funke, 1991). …

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