Making a Game of Self-Regulated Learning

The use of digital teaching tools in the classroom looks like fun!

Learning is inherently fun and inspiring, but each experience is highly personalized. In other words, I’m stating the obvious: people naturally want to learn about stuff they like at their own pace, and the clearest example is the beloved hobby. If I enjoy a hobby enough, I’ll spend countless hours collecting and examining artifacts, developing a deep, articulate knowledge of it, while inviting others to learn alongside me.

Scholars from different fields call this hobby phenomenon “intuitive,” “self-guided” or “self-regulated learning (SRL),” noting its powerful effect on motivation and knowledge acquisition. People are more motivated and develop a deeper understanding of material when they have the ability to control the content and pace of their learning experience.

Of course, the tricky part is giving students this level of control in the classroom. On the one hand, educators must balance course goals and curriculum objectives with students’ individualized interests and needs; on the other hand, students themselves may not possess the skills needed to assume control of their own education.

No matter their level, remedial and honors students alike may lack certain learning skills, such as time management and project planning, community building through tactful interactions with faculty and productive collaboration with classmates, note-taking, studying, technical trouble-shooting, even maintaining mental and physical health. There are many skills that contribute to academic success that are, ironically, missing from the academic curriculum.  

Dr. Shelley Rodrigo, Matthew Beale, and I hope to invite students to treat their college experience as a hobby by developing an online game that will promote effective learning skills at any post-secondary level. The working title of our game, which is currently under construction, is the Learning to Learn Game (L2L Game). 

The overall structure of this game is intended to serve two audiences: faculty and students. In one respect, the L2L Game serves as a series of game-based learning modules that can be utilized by faculty in their course designs. Faculty who wish to supplement their current course content with learning skills training can implement any number of our fully prepared modules into their assignments and lesson plans. For example, instructors teaching an online course may recognize the benefit of developing a collaborative digital community and request that students complete the related online community-building module. 

Students who take a personal interest in honing their skills beyond the modules assigned to them can get more deeply involved in the L2L Game on their own, obtaining points and badges as they progress through the levels we design. As students advance through our game, selecting the modules they’re interested in, they will not only learn how to survive college; they’ll learn to thrive, both in college and beyond. The L2L Game will invite students to play with their academic community while developing the skills they need to take control of it.

The development of our L2L Game is currently supported by the 2013 Faculty Innovator Grant from the Old Dominion University Center for Learning and Teaching. During the Spring of 2013, we completed an IRB-approved, mixed methods pilot test to collect data on the efficacy and functionality of a small sample of our learning modules. Students and faculty responded positively overall, and we gathered ideas for revision and enhancement. We will design the game narrative, architecture and reward structure in the Summer of 2013, construct the digital game environment in the Summer and Fall of 2013, and collect further assessment data in the Spring of 2014. 

Front Page Photo Credit: Image by Ponoory33 and available on Flickr


Nice write-up of our project, Megan. I will just add that, in my opinion, one of our biggest challenges so far has been considering how the educational goals of the L2L Game work in conjunction with the design of the gamewe have been building. Thinking about how reward structures and motivational tools can both enhance and detract from learning has given me an opportunity to reflect on how students are learning (or not) in the classroom in the first place.

A question that I would pose to any educators who join this conversation: what is your approach to teaching learning skills in the classroom? Do you assume that students have already developed these types of skills upon entering your class? Do you dedicate any class time to discussing them? Or perhaps offer some models for several of them (time management, note taking, etc.) that students might follow? 

If Matt gets to add and Addendum, I figure I can add an Appendix. I'm interested in two aspects of this project that didn't emerge as much in Megan's description (dang 600 word limit):

  1. gamification vs. game development: based on some of our recent discussions it feels like we are moving back and forth between both. I'm interested in how people are defining the differences between these moves.
  2. faculty involvement: Matt's questions start getting at some of the why and how faculty would be involved in implementing such a game. At this point, we are thinking "bite size" chunks for faculty to implement. In other words, implementing a whole game would be a major course/curriculum changer; only implementing one or two micro-lesson/activities is much easier to fit into an already developed course. 

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