Tag Archives: motivation

Games, models and real-world complexity


Stephen Downes recently commented on a critique of the use of Powerpoint for presenting highly complex information. The original critique used the example of a model of the factors involved in the conflict in Afghanistan. Downes comments that:

The reason games change this equation is that you can actually model the relations between the entities.

I agree that games which model interacting factors can be a great way to provide an immersive experience for learning about a complex situation. However:

  • The problem is not with the diagram but with how it is used. As a tool to ‘impart information’ it is way too complex to be understood by a passive audience. But the real value of such a diagram is to the understanding of those who develop it. Indeed, developing such a diagram could be seen as an essential step in developing a game or simulation*.
  • I don’t believe most games which successfully engage players / learners are anything like as complex as the real-life situation which the diagram attempts to model. Games which don’t provide regular reinforcement for successful progress towards reaching the solution tend to lower the motivation of the learner. I suspect any game which modelled more than just a subset of the diagram would be unplayable by most learners.
  • Games tend to lend themselves to simpler situations where decisions result in immediate consequences. Note that the game described in the original article seems to have a strong tactical focus where the diagram seems more concerned with strategic factors.

* Just as developing a PowerPoint resource is often of most value to the presenter as a way of organising their own thoughts in preparing for the presentation.

Problem-based learning, games and motivation

When learners are involved in problem-based learning (such as a game or other problem-solving activity), motivation often varies over time. Motivation tends to increase when partial success is achieved, but decreases when partial successes take too long to arrive. But how long is too long?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer since every learner is different and the tendency to remain motivated varies very widely between individuals, over time, and between contexts.

I’m currently working on a model of motivational stamina which attempts to identify some of the variables:

Learning and Motivation

The challenge facing the learning designer is how to maintain engagement when learner motivation is so variable. What is an interesting task at the beginning may cease to be interesting and motivating part way through, and learner attention and commitment to the activity may be lost.

The model suggests that some early success is desirable, and also that ongoing partial successes may serve to maintain motivation. This is reminiscent of narrative techniques in popular culture, where viewer interest is maintained through a repeated cycle of raised tension and dénouement.

Reference
Left, Paul. The Motivational Stamina Model. http://www.verso.co.nz/mw/index.php?title=Learning_and_Motivation