What's the goal of your learning game? And can your students relate to it? Creating interesting enough content to your game helps to motivate your learners.
Avoid long and winding roads
Unfortunately it’s not a given that students get motivated in the themes or goals that you set for them. For a 14-year-old, it’s difficult to set eyes on the big picture, and understand that instead of doing math they're actually building their way to be able to become a professional who can do exactly the things that they are interested in.
The path from calculating probabilities to that end result of being able to do what you love is just too long and has too many uninteresting side steps. It’s much easier just to skip those stats and concentrate on something that is more interesting right now.
Create understandable and reachable goals
If you use games for teaching you can make those calculations a bit more interesting, and bring the steps towards the end result a little more understandable and visible. You can set goals that students can understand and relate to. A good game goal would be for instance to find out, is it profitable to run an ice cream kiosk by the city centre. This is concrete, and in your game tasks you can chop the word profitable into smaller peaces so that in each exercise the students solve a piece of a puzzle that teaches them what all is involved in running a kiosk and how the ice creams should be prized, and how many customers are needed to cover the costs. This is something that is within the possibilities of the students abilities, but it also creates a lot of chances for them to show different types of skills.
Set clear rules for your game, but leave room for freedom
Just as goals also rules direct the actions and expectations of students inside your game. Rules are the boundaries within which the game must be played, but they can also set the ground for evaluating, how much room for own solutions there are. Using games in teaching requires teachers to give up some of the power that they have within the classroom setting. But by giving up power, you are actually empowering students in many ways. Students have a chance to take control of their actions, to feel autonomy.
Autonomy is one of the needs that motivation researchers have identified as important for motivation. Research has shown that feeling that you are able to affect your work, able to make choices, and carry the consequences from them reinforces the feeling of autonomy and engagement .
Connect your goals and rules to a story
Goals and rules both certainly have a role inside your game for it to be successful. But there's also one other thing you need to consider. That is how to make your game feel interesting. Your students will need someting that is relatable to them and their lives or something that they can get excited about to actually care about your game goals. You need to pay attention to the content of your game.
A great way to make your goals feel more meaningful is to use a story to direct the players inside the game questions. For instance our kiosk example could have an inbuild story, where the players are hired to save a historical kiosk by making it "The Place" to purchase ice cream. In each question the players solve one issue concerning real goals, like calculating how much chocolate ice cream they need to purchase per month to not run out when 80% of customers want chocholate as their first choice, and there are x amount of customers per month.
But, what if one night the kiosk gets robbed by a group of rebellious grannies, who got tired of playing by the rules, and they lose half of the chocolate they had? Then they would have to figure out what choices they have. Maybe they order more, (at what cost) or maybe they could also think about what kind of adverticing and new flavours could maybe cover for the lost sales. Maybe they could even think about how to get the grannies pay back.
The more relatable and interesting you make your story inside your game in different ways, the more your players will give to your game.
Reward for mastery and creativeness
In games you can also always motivate through feedback. You can make this happen in different ways. One way is to encourage students to really show their creativity in the exercises. Give feedback and points for thinking outside of the box and showing different sets of skills.
Also allow your players to make choices inside your games. Through choices players have power to own their game. When we talk about learning games, players take ownership of their learning through the game's exercises.
Owning the game doesn't mean that students should be left playing on their own. On the contrary. They still need guidance and support. Learning with games certainly doesn't diminish the role of the teacher. In the best learning games teachers play the role of a conductor. They guide, instruct and empower. They enable students to shine.
In Seppo games, you can create possibilities for choice and ownership through out the game process. Players can make their first choice already before entering the game while choosing their team name. Inside a game you can allow players to choose the order and way they want to answer to exercises. You can even allow them to choose if they want to answer at all.