Instructional designers often turn to theories of motivational design when producing educational games. The popular theory of ”Flow” predicts that game motivation will be greatest when games are ”not too hard and not too easy.” We tested this idea by randomly assigning >20,000 learners to variations of a popular educational math game. Results: In almost all cases, increases in game difficulty reduced motivation. In contrast, increasing ”novelty” and ”suspense” enhanced motivation. Implications: Difficulty may be overrated. Novelty and suspense are way more fun! Perhaps the maxim should be ”not too hard and not too boring”. More generally, this work shows how product experiments (A/B testing) can improve both scientific theory and student outcomes at scale.
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