Please put your phone away. Stop playing that video game. Focus on your work. Why are you choosing to play a game instead of doing your classwork?
These are all statements I have said at one point in my teaching career. But what if I’ve had it all wrong? What if my students are playing video games because that is how they learn best? What if I somehow turned some of my language arts curriculum into game-based learning?
These are questions I developed while reviewing the article Effects of digital game-based learning on achievement flow and overall cognitive load, published this year in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. The article draws attention to one essential question: What are the differences in learning achievement, flow and cognitive load between digital game-based learning (DGBL) and computer-based learning (CBL)?
Very few studies have researched the differences between DGBL and CBL. This study, conducted in Taiwan, proved to be significant because it studied for the first time the relationship among flow, learning effect and cognitive load. “There is now evidence to support the theoretical assumptions surrounding these vital learning variables. The current results also demonstrate the importance of flow theory, cognitive load theory, and cognitive theory of multimedia learning within the context of DGBL instructional modalities” (Chang, Warden, Liang, Lin, 2018).
Here are some helpful definitions:
Flow is a psychological state in which gamers experience enjoyment and loss of distractions (Kiili, de Freitas, Arnab, & Lainema, 2012; Pearce, Ainley, & Howard, 2005). According to the article, learners in flow experience a sense of concentration, immersion, engagement, enjoyment, free control, loss of oneself, and satisfaction.
Cognitive load is a multidimensional construct, representing the load that performing a learning task imposes on the learner’s cognitive system (Paas, van Merriënboer, & Adam, 1994). In other words, cognitive load is like a computer’s central processing unit (CPU) or the working memory of our brain. When it is overloaded, it doesn’t work as well as it should.
Participants in this study consisted of 103 Taiwanese students with a mean age of 19. One class of 53 (32 females, 21 males) students were selected as the control group while another class of 50 (36 females, 14 males) served as the experimental group. The learning material for the study focused on knowledge of carbon footprints. I wonder if the age of these participants matter? Also, does it matter that females outnumbered males? My initial response would be yes because I never see females playing video games at my junior high. Females are more interested in social media while males are more interested in playing video games.
Regardless, the study’s results were based on questionnaires that focused on flow and cognitive load. Each questionnaire had a five-point scale. Here is an example:
- The learning inspires my curiosity
- The learning is enjoyable
- The learning is interesting
- The learning is unpleasant
Questionnaires like this are not the most accurate way to determine if DGBL is more effective than CBL, so the study also analyzed test data. In the experiment procedure section of the article, it says the experimental group used the DGBL environment whereas the control group used the CBL environment. The article presented these environments with a couple of screenshots. Basically, the media for CBL is 2D (text, images and video). For DGBL, the media is 3D (virtual reality). At the end of the article, I wanted to see more examples of these environments.
Some questions were left unanswered in this study. Does CBL curriculum underperform in comparison to DGBL? Also, when learners lose themselves in a state of flow, does that always mean they increased achievement? And finally, a major variable in all of this deals with the quality of DGBL curriculum. The article admits that the study was limited in regards to the DGBL design. It would be interesting to see a study that compared different types of DGBL modalities.
Chang, Chi-Cheng, et al. “Effects of Digital Game-Based Learning on Achievement, Flow and Overall Cognitive Load.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 34, no. 4, 2018, doi:10.14742/ajet.2961.