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Student-Centered Factors as Predictors for Learning and Motivation in Digital Games: Examining a Deception Detection Training Game


Early scholars in the field of game studies praised digital games for their potential to impact teaching and learning processes; however, this one-size-fits all approach to games in education may not effectively improve learning for all types of students. Their interests, beliefs, goals, needs, and knowledge (which can be called student-centered factors) may play a role in their ability to learn from a game-based training. The goal of this dissertation is to examine the conditions in which learners are more likely to benefit from a digital training game. Rather than manipulating the features of a game to examine the impact on students, the current study examines the students themselves.

To examine the degree that pre-existing student-centered factors can be used to predict a person’s likelihood of learning and motivation in digital game-based training, a sequential mixed-methods design was utilized in which both qualitative and quantitative data were gathered in three different data collection stages. Study I (Chapter III) utilized a survey method to pilot test the instrumentation that was designed to measure five student-centered factors of interest in this study. Study II (Chapter IV) was exploratory and used both focus group and interview methods to examine participant experiences after play-testing an alpha version of a digital learning game, VERITAS. Study III (Chapter V) used a pretest-posttest experimental design to assess the degree that student-centered factors impact learning between two types of training conditions and assessed the degree that student-centered factors predict four types of motivation (outcome-focused, process-focused, means-focused, and intrinsic motivation).

Five key findings summarize the most notable outcomes of this research: first, the game-based training contributes to higher levels of learning in comparison to a PowerPoint lecture-based training; this is especially the case for learners who report that English is not their first language. Second, having a stronger interest in the topic of deception detection is positively related to perceptions of enjoyment and value (intrinsic motivation) in the game-based training. Third, having a stronger belief in one’s ability to learn about the topic of deception detection is negatively related to one’s experience in attending to goals (process-focused motivation); but is positively related to perceptions of competence in the game-based training. Fourth, having a goal that is oriented toward mastering a topic is negatively related to the effort that a user reports putting into the training game. Lastly, having needs that are more likely to be satisfied in digital games is positively related to asking more in-game questions in a game-based training (means-focused motivation); but is negatively related to one’s perceptions of value in the training.

From a new media perspective, this research explores the affordances and limitations of games in education. Findings overall show that users are likely to interact with a digital learning tool based on their own unique prior experiences. By seeking to understand the relationship between student-centered factors, learning, and motivation, scholars can better design games to serve diverse students in our evolving digital age.

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