Setting goals is important for learning. Goals give meaning and feeling of accomplishment for one's actions. But why is it so hard to get students motivated in learning goals?
In games it seems pretty easy to motivate most people to strive to meet even quite meaningless goals. What can we learn from games here?
In games goals are understandable and reachable
In games, a goal can be to win a boss, reach the next level, or gather enough weapons to survive the approaching zombie herd. When we reach these goals, we feel that we’ve accomplished something. At the same time, the game becomes more meaningful. Of course fighting zombies is usually not considered that meaningful. But the meaningfulness actually does not come from killing zombies but from being able to think strategically or seeing oneself develop in the game. In games, these goals are clear and the next level always reachable with a reasonable amount of effort.
Make learning goals more visual
When it comes to learning processes, goals may not be that clearly set or visual. For students, knowing how well they've reached the set goals becomes visible often only through tests or essays. But what happens if you fail in a test or if the test doesn’t measure the things that you are really good at?
Your feeling about your knowledge level, your skills, even about yourself may suffer. Naturally one failure, although it might sting for a while, shouldn't put you down. And of course, if you haven’t done anything to learn the needed skills, you might need this sort of push to learn them. But what if your general feeling about yourself, your possibilities and your abilities is already low?
This is where games can help. In learning games, it’s possible to set understandable and reachable goals, make the goals very visible and also show the students’ progress towards these goals along the way.
Build bigger goals from setting smaller goals along the way
Bigger goals can also easily be chopped into smaller pieces. Each exercise is a chance to succeed, to accomplish something, and the feeling of self efficacy is strengthened when these accomplishments get recognition. This recognition can be teacher’s feedback or advice inside the game.
In learning games, every exercise is getting the player one step closer to the ultimate goal of learning the subject, but also goals of completing the exercises, getting enough points or maybe also outsmarting the zombie herd that is threatening to swipe out the human race, unless the playing themes come up with a way to use their mathematical and problem solving skills. The feeling of accomplishment and meaningfulness is fed along the way with feedback that students get for their answers.
When you start playing a learning game, it’s useful to also explain the learning goals of your game. This way students also understand the underlaying bigger goal. You can use game story and rules for this, but it's quite allright to discuss the learning goals after the game while reflecting it with the students. This is easily done by using the game archive.