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Students Find Multiple-Choice Tests Fun and Rewarding with Gamification

2012 January 12

ResearchBlogging.orgIn a recent study by Landers and Callan[1], undergraduates completed optional multiple-choice tests online and reported them, on average, as “fun”, “enjoyable”, and “rewarding”. They did this in the context of an online social network platform previously covered on this blog.  Students were awarded badges (social rewards) in exchange for completing optional practice tests theorized to improve their learning.

This is, to my knowledge, the first published empirical study of gamification in educational settings.

Landers and Callan posit that gamification can be best expressed as an extension of goal setting theory.  By making explicit goals and recognizing their achievement, we can motivate people to action.  Gamification, in this sense, is the recognition of goals electronically and automatically, without the need for a human mediator (most often an instructor in an educational context or a supervisor in an organizational context).  This makes the reward for goal achievement more immediate than is possible with traditional methods and thus more motivating.  Goal setting is well established as a motivational intervention in a wide variety of contexts, so we would expect gamification to be similarly versatile – and perhaps even more powerful.

What’s especially interesting about this study (if I do say so myself) is that the authors managed to make the completion of optional multiple choice tests a valid student goal.  Most of the time, grades on tests are themselves a performance goal for students.  But if you ask them to complete practice tests on their own time, you are often met with varying levels of resistance – or simple apathy.  With gamification, about 30% of students enrolled in the social network platform opted to take these tests for no reward other than a virtual badge.  I expect you’d see similar success with an organizational training intervention (upcoming research!).

So why should we get students to complete optional multiple choice tests?  Because other research suggests that the act of testing promotes long term retention of knowledge better than studying does.  Not only do they get a badge, but they learn material for their courses more effectively than they could do on their own!  I consider that a win-win.

  1. Landers, R. N., & Callan, R. C. (2011). Casual social games as serious games: The psychology of gamification in undergraduate education and employee training. In M. Ma, A. Oikonomou, & L. C. Jain (Eds.), Serious Games and Edutainment Applications (pp. 399-423).  Surrey, UK: Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4471-2161-9_20 []
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  1. January 18, 2012

    Dr. Landers, I want to thank you for letting me view a copy of the manuscript on this research. I mentioned your research in my blog article (gamification in education – and I hope you do more research like this…it is on the cutting edge. I hope to see more gamification principles in work environments. Have you read Total Engagement? If not, I would recommend it as the book is well-written and discusses gaming principles applied to a work environment.

  2. January 18, 2012

    Yes, I saw that – thanks for the mention! And yes, we are certainly still working in this area – one paper recently submitted, and we just started a new lab study today. I have heard of Total Engagement but haven’t picked it up yet – thanks for the recommendation!

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