GAMIFICATION AND EDUCATION: A STUDY OF THE EFFECTS ON
STUDENTS SITUATIONAL MOTIVATION
Rui Leitão, Sarah Turner, Martin Maguire
Design School, Loughborough University (UNITED KINGDOM)
Gamification is an umbrella term, meaning the implementation of video game elements in a non-video
game environment in order to improve the user experience and increase the user’s motivation and
engagement . When gamification is applied to education, it refers to ‘making learning experiences
more engaging and game-like by using game design elements and game mechanics’ . Pupils’
motivation is one of the most important factors in the learning process –, and games
characteristically possess a high level of motivational potential , –. Although previous studies
have shown that the use of game elements may promote the desired user behaviour in different fields,
some warn that it can decrease intrinsic motivation .
Grounded in a self-determination theory (SDT) framework , , this study intends to understand
the effect that playing an educational mobile game can have in stimulating pupils to engage in learning
about recycling. The study focuses on students in early secondary education within the age group
between 12-14 years.
In order to understand children’s motivation before and after they play an educational mobile game
about recycling, pupils were asked to respond to a motivation scale survey. The Situational Motivation
Scale (SIMS) is a 16-item measure of the self-determination of a person’s choice to participate in an
activity , . Situational motivation refers to the motivation individuals experience when they are
currently engaging in an activity.
The sample of this study was formed by 36 children in Portugal and in the UK (PT=20, UK=16).
Findings show that the children’s intrinsic motivation scores increased over 10% after playing the
recycling game. Although Identified Regulation (participating in an activity because the students value
its outcomes) also increased 6%, this result show that the effects of playing the game on this type of
extrinsic motivation were not so large comparing to intrinsic motivation. Regarding the external
regulation, there was an increase of 0.5% and, lastly, amotivation scores decreased by 17,1%. These
overall results seem to show an increase of the effect along the autonomy continuum, describing the
extent to which pupils have been internalized and integrated into the activity. Although the findings
regarding the two countries do not differ much, it is possible to observe that the Portuguese pupils
were more highly motivated while they played the educational game, but the effect of playing the
game was higher on the UK pupils’ motivation.
These overall results suggest that playing a mobile game could increase the intrinsic motivation and,
therefore, decrease pupils’ amotivation, while having a small effect on students’ extrinsic motivation.
Hence, gamification could be a useful tool in the classroom for this age group of children.
Keywords: Motivation, Self-determination theory, gamification, education technology, secondary
1 MOTIVATION PROCESSES
‘To be motivated means to be moved to do something’ . According to Deci and Ryan , different
types of motivation lie on a continuum according to their level of self-determination (Figure 1). The
authors identified three sets of motivation processes: intrinsic, extrinsic and amotivational. The
fundamental principle of self-determination theory (SDT) at all levels is that individuals need (innate
needs) to feel competent, connected and self-determined within social environments , . Self-
determination involves a true sense of choice, a sense of feeling free to do what one has chosen to
Proceedings of EDULEARN19 Conference
1st-3rd July 2019, Palma, Mallorca, Spain
Figure 1. Self-determination continuum (Edward L. Deci & Ryan, 1991; Ryan & Deci, 1985)
The most self-determined motivation is intrinsic motivation (IM), which refers to participating in an
activity because it is inherently interesting and pleasurable. It involves the greatest degree of
autonomous self-regulation and descends from an innate psychological need of competence and self-
determination , . Intrinsic motivation is commonly known as the most productive force behind
people’s behaviour. In the educational context, results in high-quality learning and creativity and has
emerged as an important phenomenon for educators. An intrinsically motivated student is led to act for
fun or challenge and not because of external stimuli, pressures, or rewards . In contrast, extrinsic
motivation (EM) involves less autonomy and is defined as the participation in an activity because of a
distinct goal from the activity itself. The authors proposed four behavioural regulations ordered along a
self-determination continuum: external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation and
integrated regulation .
The least self-determined form of extrinsic motivation is external regulation, which refers to the pursuit
of an activity because of rewards or external coercive pressures, thus, it is external to a person. For
example, ‘I'm doing this activity to praise my teacher’ or 'I'm doing this activity to avoid confrontation
with my parents’. Introjected regulation refers to doing an activity because of internal pressures such
as guilt, shame, or ego protection/enhancement. The student is not identified with the regulation, does
the activity but does not accept it. Although this regulation is within the person, it involves coercion or
seduction and does not entail true choice, therefore, introjected regulation is not considered self-
Identified regulation refers to participating in an activity because one values its outcomes, thus, the
student does the activity more willingly, i.e. ‘I'm studying because it is something important for me’. In
this stage, the regulation process has become more fully a part of the self and therefore the student
feels a sense of choice. This regulation is extrinsic because the activity is performed primarily because
of its usefulness rather than because it is interesting. Despite that, the authors state that ‘the
behaviour is relatively self-determined because the student does it willingly, for personal reasons,
rather than external pressure’ [19, p. 330].
Integrated regulation is the most self-determined form of extrinsic motivation and refers to the pursuit
of an activity because it is consistent with one's values and sense of self. In this stage of the process,
the identifications are mutually assimilated with the individual's other values, needs and identities, i.e.,
‘I'm a good student and a good athlete’. Only when the student has these two identifications integrated
and in balance with each other and with the rest of the student's sense of self, is the internalization
process is complete. This stage of the regulatory process bears some relation to intrinsic motivation
because both are forms of autonomous self-regulation. ‘The qualities that are associated with
intrinsically motivated behaviour (such as behaving willingly, being creative, and displaying conceptual
or intuitive understanding) can be used as objective markers of the extent to which an extrinsic
regulation has become fully integrated’ [19, p. 330].
Finally, amotivation is defined as the absence of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation and, thus, the non-
existence of self-determination. An amotivated student perceives no worthwhile reasons for
participation in a task. The students are neither intrinsically nor extrinsically motivated. For example,
the student starts asking 'What am I doing in school?’.
The perspective of SDT, which has found a broad acceptance in motivation research in the domain of
education , provides insights into the psychological processes underlying gamification , .
These insights into the psychological concept of motivation could help to better understand how
gamification works. Although intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is one of the most discussed topics in
the field, it is insufficiently understood thus far and empirical research outcomes are still scarce ,
. In addition, in the literature, “when motivation is targeted, it is typically examined through
observable indicators, such as grades, attendance, etc. that are not always directly linked to it” [23, p.
The present study intends to understand how playing an educational mobile game or game like-
applications in learning activities effects students’ motivation. SDT it was chosen because it is a
comprehensive and broad theory which has been adopted in a variety of areas .
The Tadweer Recycling Game  was chosen because recycling it is connected to eutrophication,
sea level rise and plastic oceans, some of the major problems affecting the ocean’s well-being –
, while findings of the ‘Ocean literacy and information sources’ study  has revealed the pupils’
low levels of knowledge about these topics. The game is in English, which is familiar to both countries
within the sample target. The aim of the game is to teach how we can contribute to keep the
environment healthy, collecting waste objects falling on the floor and putting each object in the correct
As the study has a dependent sample, the design used is known as paired sample t-test, which the
same participants take part in each condition of the dependent variable. Therefore, the same
participants were tested twice to understand if there was a "change" or a "difference" in means
between the two related groups.
Data were collected before and immediately after the activity which involved one educational game.
The importance ‘is not on the before and after per se, but on the relative difference between them in
the treatment and comparison groups as a measure of the treatment effect’ [29, p. 123]. The most
usual limitations of this type of design is that there may be order effects, i.e. the performance of the
students in the second condition may be better because the participants know what to do, or their
performance might be worse in the second condition because they are tired.
In order to understand children’s motivation before and after they play an educational mobile game
about recycling, pupils were asked to respond to a motivation scale survey. The Situational Motivation
Scale (SIMS) was used since it is a well-validated situational measure of motivation , .
Situational motivation refers to the motivation individuals experience when they are currently engaging
in an activity.
The sample of this study was formed by 36 children (PT=20, UK=16) within the age group between
12-14 years. Since the scale should be short and versatile in order to capture ongoing motivation
regulations at the psychological state level, the SIMS only assesses the identified and external
regulation dimensions of extrinsic motivation. Indeed, Guay and colleagues  argued that including
integrated and introjected regulation items would yield a too lengthy assessment tool that might fail to
capture ongoing self-processes.
The survey was piloted using a small sample of pupils in Portugal and in the UK. This step helped
ensure that the students understood the questions and the necessary adaptations were made:
adaptation of some words to the target audience in question; simplification of the 7-point to 5-point
Likert scale; understanding if the paper support survey was a good stand to work with the children;
and understanding the time required for its conclusion. Group sessions with different numbers of
children resulted in small changes in time, but the difference in scaling had no effect on the absolute
and incremental fit indices.
The survey to measure the perceived motivation was adapted and translated from English to
The Situational Motivation Scale  is a 16-item measure of the self-determination of a person’s
choice to participate in an activity. The SIMS provides separate scores for intrinsic motivation (Items 1,
5, 9, 13), identified regulation (Items 2, 6, 10, 14), external regulation (Items 3, 7, 11, 15), and
amotivation (Items 4, 8, 12, 16).
Students were asked to rate different reasons for participating in the activity, play an educational
mobile game, on a scale ranging from disagree strongly (1) to agree strongly (5).
(1) Because I think that this activity is interesting; (2) Because I am doing it for my own good; (3)
Because I am supposed to do it; (4) There may be good reasons to do this activity, but personally I
don’t see any; (5) Because I think that this activity is pleasant; (6) Because I think that this activity is
good for me; (7) Because it is something that I have to do; (8) I will do this activity but I am not sure if it
is worth it; (9) Because this activity is fun; (10) Because it is my personal decision to do it; (11)
Because I don’t have any choice; (12) I don’t know; I don’t see what this activity brings me; (13)
Because I feel good when doing this activity; (14) Because I believe that this activity is important for
me; (15) Because I feel that I have to do it; (16) I do this activity, but I am not sure it is a good thing to
The survey was administered during the IT labs to pupils who were studying in years 7, 8, 9 (12 to 14
years) in one school in the metropolitan area of Guimarães in Portugal and at the Design School in
Loughborough in the UK. The data were collected between October and December 2018. The surveys
were anonymous and no personal information was collected. Permission was obtained from pupils
and parents regarding the participation in the study in order to comply with research ethics
For all findings reported in this study, the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) and
paired samples t-tests was used. The dependent t-test compares the means between two related
groups on the same continuous, dependent variable. The dependent t-test was used to understand
whether there was a difference in children’s motivation before and after they played an educational
mobile game about recycling, in other words, to understand the effect that playing an educational
mobile game can have in stimulating children to engage in learning about recycling.
Analyses were performed on the two sets of data involving one game activity context that were
collected before and immediately after the activity. The results were assessed through paired samples
t-tests (Table 1 and Table 2).
Table 1. Overall paired samples statistics applied to SIMS survey
Std. Error Mean
Table 2. Overall paired samples test applied to SIMS survey
Findings show that the children’s intrinsic motivation scores increased over 10% after playing the
recycling game (see Table 1), with an increase in the mean score of 1.556 points (see Table 2). The
increase in intrinsic motivation scores, according to the literature , , indicated that the pupils’
participation in this activity was inherently interesting or enjoyable. Moreover, the paired sample
statistics (see Table 2), the Sig. (2-Tailed) value regarding Intrinsic Motivation Post-Pre is less than
0.05, therefore, it possible to conclude that there is a statistically significant difference between the
pupils’ intrinsic motivation after and before they play the educational game.
Although Identified Regulation (participating in an activity because the students value its outcomes)
also increased 6%, this result show that the effects of playing the game on this type of extrinsic
motivation were not so large comparing to intrinsic motivation. Despite that, it is also possible to
conclude that there is a statistically significant difference between this type of extrinsic motivation after
and before they played the game (p < 0.05). Therefore, the students did the activity willingly and found
it usefulness for themselves.
Regarding the external regulation, there was an increase of 0.5% but the difference in pre- and post-
motivation was not significant, since the Sig. (2-Tailed) value is higher than 0.05 (see Table 2).
Nevertheless, amotivation scores decreased 17,1% with a decrease in the mean score of 1.667
points. The difference was significant (p < 0.05). Since amotivation is defined as the non-existence of
self-determination (Ryan & Deci, 2002), the positive results are consistent with the previous results
obtained, and show that the students perceived worthwhile reasons for participating on this study.
These overall results seem to show that the game activity has had a beneficial effect, as we go up in
autonomy or self-determination (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Effect on autonomy or self-determination results
In order to understand if there was a difference in the pupils’ motivation by country, statistical analysis
through paired samples t-tests on both samples (Portugal and UK) was also performed (see Table 3
and Table 4).
Table 3: Comparative statistics applied to SIMS survey by the country
PT N= 20
Comparison statistics findings show that children’s intrinsic motivation scores increased in both
countries (PT + 8.5% and UK + 12,5%) after playing the recycling game. Although the Portuguese
pupils were initially and after playing the game more intrinsically motivated than the pupils in the UK,
the effect of the game on the English pupils’ motivation was higher (Table 3).
Table 4. Paired samples test applied to SIMS survey by the country
PT (N= 20)
Although identified and external regulation results in both countries are not statistically significant (see
Table 4), these results display similarities with the overall results, as identified regulation increased in
both countries (PT + 4.5% and UK + 8%). There seems to be a trend/tendency in the degree of
motivation, with the Portuguese students being more motivated, but with the effect of the game on the
UK students’ motivation being again more expressive. It is also interesting to see that the external
regulation in Portugal decreased, but further research is necessary to better understand these effects.
Finally, amotivation scores decreased in both countries (over 20% in Portugal and around 13% in the
UK), showing again that the students were more motivated in the learning activity after playing the
mobile game. Motivated actions are self-determined to the extent that they are engaged in wholly free-
willingly and endorsed by one's sense of self. Once again, these results by country show that the
effect of the recycle game is higher along the autonomy continuum that describes the extent to which
they have been internalized and integrated with the activity.
4 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
The purpose of the present study was to understand the effect which playing an educational mobile
game can have on stimulating pupils to engage in learning about recycling. Findings show that the
recycling game had a significant effect on intrinsic motivation, therefore, these overall results are in
line with previous research which highlights that games characteristically possess a high level of
intrinsic motivational potential.
According to Ryan and Deci, ‘many of the educational activities prescribed in schools are not designed
to be intrinsically interesting, a central question concerns how to motivate students to value and self-
regulate such activities, and without external pressure, to carry them out on their own’ [17, p. 60].
Dicheva et al.  reinforce this idea and enhances that students usually start out motivated and that
due to the current educational system that is inadequately designed, as they grow up and advance in
their studies, they are losing their natural passion, interest and curiosity. Moreover, in a study
conducted by Ayotte-Beaudet et al., the authors state that ‘in recent years, many researchers have
pointed to the problem of a decline in students’ interest in school science’. Factors related to cognitive
challenges, contextualization, curriculum, gender, learning environment, novelty effect, pedagogy
strategy, scientific topic, social interaction and teacher, were identified in the literature as affecting
students’ relationship to school science . Secondary students’ interest in science is decreasing
since what happens in science classrooms is not particularly attractive to students: ‘While adolescents
in the 21st century are immersed in a world in which they are connected to their peers, to technology,
and to web content in which they are interested, they enter science classrooms in which they are
disconnected from their peers and from the tools they regularly use for informal learning, and they are
often required to consume, complete, and replicate given knowledge’ [31, p. 317].
Considering this, educational games could help to stimulate pupils’ intrinsic motivation by promoting
the pupils’ initiative to do the activity for itself, as well as the pleasure and the satisfaction that they
experience while learning. It is important to note that intrinsic motivation is also connected with the
participation in an activity in order to experience stimulation sensations such as aesthetic experiences,
sensory pleasure and fun, and the pleasure and the satisfaction experienced when one attempts to
accomplish or create something. Moreover, Bloom’s revised taxonomy, which is one of the most
widely applied thinking classifications according to cognitive levels and one of the most often cited
references in education, elevates creativity as the most complex of the cognitive processes .
Therefore, the use of educational games in the learning processes could also promote a higher level
of thinking and learning.
Further research is necessary to understand how and if educational games could have different
effects on different grades. According to Ryan and Deci (2000a), in schools, intrinsic motivation seems
to become weaker with each advancing grade. The authors relate this with the loss of freedom
‘curtailed by social demands and roles that require individuals to assume responsibility for non-
intrinsically interesting tasks’ [17, p. 60].
Contrary, amotivation decreased, which is consistent with the IM results, since amotivation is defined
as the non-existence of self-determination. According to the literature, this significant decreased effect
on amotivation shows that the pupils perceived contingencies between outcomes and their own
actions. The low level of difficulty perceived by pupils while playing the game could be one reason
since this third type of motivation emerges when an individual experiences incompetence or has
expectations of uncontrollability. Regarding extrinsic motivation, although the external regulation
results are not statistically significant, it is possible to observe an increase of the effect along the
autonomy continuum, describing the extent to which pupils have been internalized and integrated into
the activity. In other words, while becoming more part of the self.
Although the findings regarding the two countries do not differ much from the overall ones, it is
possible to observe that the Portuguese pupils were more higher motivated while they played the
educational game, but the effect of playing the game was higher on the UK pupils’ motivation. The
higher motivation of pupils in Portugal could be the result of the novelty, since previous research has
shown that the pupils in the UK use more educational games and the integration of digital applications
in learning activities are more widespread and consolidated than in Portugal .
Some limitations of the present study should be addressed. First, the sample of the study is rather
small and probably explains some statistically not significant results. The non-inclusion of the
introjected regulation and integrated regulation subscale is another limitation. Therefore, the inclusion
of these subscales in future research could enhance the knowledge of situation motivation applied to
educational games. Lastly, the learning outcomes were not assessed, thus, it is not possible to relate
the results with the learning process.
In conclusion, despite the apparent motivational and engagement appeal of gamification, as previous
research has shown, empirical research outcomes are still scarce and insufficiently understood. These
overall results suggest that playing a mobile game could increase the intrinsic motivation and,
therefore, decrease pupils’ amotivation, while having a small effect on extrinsic motivation. Were
described the psychological processes underlying the working of motivation to reach a better
understanding of how gamification could facilitate these processes. Findings suggests that educational
games could promote pupils’ motivation in learning activities. The fact that motivation can be
influenced, at least in part, by the use of educational games in the classroom represents encouraging
news for educators. Educational games have potential benefits as tools for enhancing science
teaching and learning in schools, not only on motivational domain but as well as in emotional,
cognitive and social domains . However, although the teachers had a strong desired to integrate
these technologies into education, they faced many barriers to it . Therefore, it is necessary to
provide resources, effective professional development, sufficient time and technical support to
overcome some barriers such as the teachers’ lack of confidence, lack of competence and lack of
access to resources , .
Additionally, there is a need for more studies that can enhance the understanding of how individual
game elements are linked to motivational outcomes. Without understanding the effect of the different
types of game elements individually, it is difficult to identify their contribution in studies that combine
different game elements. Moreover, a research conducted by Deci and Ryan , shown that tangible
rewards have a substantial undermining effect in intrinsic motivation (self-motivation, curiosity,
interest, and persistence at learning tasks), while verbal rewards (explicit positive performance
feedback) increased it. Considering that different types rewards have different effects on intrinsic
motivation, future research is needed to understand what could be the differences regarding “digital
rewards”, since there is a lack of studies to evaluate them.
This research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council Design Star CDT
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