How much learning do we need? Digital Game-based Learning in School
Digital game-based learning based on serious games is a fast-growing field of research. However, there is astonishingly little empirical research on optimal instructional design, a corresponding layout, and an efficient integration of serious games into lessons (for a literature overview, see Lieberman, 2009). However, several questions arise from the scientific work that has been done on serious games. One very popular question asks how a game can be used for learning purposes without destroying the fun of gaming. Another problem emerges from the character of playing. According to Huizinga, play is “a voluntary activity . . . having its aim in itself” (Huizinga, 1955). Regarding the use of this kind of activity for learning in school, one may query the possibility or necessity of playing a serious game as a learning activity. Consequently, two main questions will be addressed in my research. The first question asks how much explicit learning content should be in the game. Therefore, two versions of a serious game will be examined, one with explicit learning content and one without explicit learning content. As result, a difference in terms of knowledge acquisition is anticipated. The second question asks how explicitly the game itself should be presented as learning material. Therefore, a learning instruction (Salomon, 1984) will be used. This instruction should theoretically manipulate the perception of the game as learning material. To answer both research questions mentioned above, a 2 x 2 factorial design experiment with two independent variables (explicit learning content yes/no; learning instruction yes/no) will be conducted. The dependent variables are the performance of the students dealing with an achievement test, which is divided into two parts: knowledge acquisition in terms of factual knowledge and transfer. Mediating variables such as mental effort or intrinsic motivation will be measured by questionnaires immediately after the game play. The gaming behaviour of each player will be evaluated by an analysis of the log files. The study is specially designed to test the following hypotheses: The perception of the game as learning material will not significantly increase performance because this perception does not fit with the character of playing. The implementation of explicit learning material will significantly increase the performance on inference. However, on the other hand, it will significantly decrease the flow and thus the intrinsic motivation. It is expected that the results of this research project will help to understand the potential and the limits of serious games as teaching material and contribute to the knowledge of an optimal didactic conception of serious games.