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Fostering Students' Motivation to Learn Daily on a Voluntary Basis - A Gamified Mobile Learning Approach for Formal Learning Settings

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Abstract

In this research study, we address the issue of fostering the students' motivation to learn in large-scale lectures in which the student-to-lecturer ratio is high. A common challenge in large-scale lectures is that providing adequate learning support for each student on an individualized basis is often not possible (esp. due to resource constrains). In order to provide an enhanced learning support in large-scale courses by fostering the students' (intrinsic) motivation to learn on a daily basis, we apply a problem-centered design science research approach in this study. We developed an enhanced learning concept and a mobile learning app. After two design iterations, we finished the development of the mobile learning artifact that we are currently testing in a field study in a large-scale information systems lecture. In this paper, we present the design cycles and outline our future research steps.
Fostering Motivation to Learn in Formal Learning Setting
Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 1
Fostering StudentsMotivation to Learn
Daily on a Voluntary Basis – A Gamified
Mobile Learning Approach for Formal
Learning Settings
Short Paper
Sebastian Hobert
University of Goettingen
Platz der Göttinger Sieben 5,
D-37073 Göttingen
shobert@uni-goettingen.de
Florian Berens
University of Goettingen
Goßlerstr. 19
D-37073 Göttingen
florian.berens@uni-goettingen.de
Abstract
In this research study, we address the issue of fostering the students’ motivation to learn
in large-scale lectures in which the student-to-lecturer ratio is high. A common challenge
in large-scale lectures is that providing adequate learning support for each student on an
individualized basis is often not possible (esp. due to resource constrains). In order to
provide an enhanced learning support in large-scale courses by fostering the students’
(intrinsic) motivation to learn on a daily basis, we apply a problem-centered design
science research approach in this study. We developed an enhanced learning concept and
a mobile learning app. After two design iterations, we finished the development of the
mobile learning artifact that we are currently testing in a field study in a large-scale
information systems lecture. In this paper, we present the design cycles and outline our
future research steps.
Keywords: mobile learning, formal learning setting, gamification, design science research
Introduction
In higher education, lecturers often try to impart knowledge and skills by presenting the learning content
in lectures and by forcing students to hand in mandatory exercise tasks or by defining the exercises as
relevant for the final exam. Both measures are common in basic lectures (e.g., in mathematics,
programming or methodical courses). They can certainly contribute to the transfer of knowledge and are
widely used in practice. Nevertheless, this is in contrast to giving students the autonomy to engage with
learning content voluntarily. However, autonomy and choice have an positive impact on intrinsic
motivation (Patall et al. 2008; Ryan and Deci 2000). An increasing intrinsic motivation can further lead to
the situation that students like to explore the learning content on their own without the need of external
pressure resulting only in extrinsic motivation that will not last sustainably. Motivating students
intrinsically has the opportunity that students do no longer see learning as a burden but as an enjoyable
activity to broaden their knowledge.
However, a sole change in the current teaching practice by abolishing mandatory exercises would not be
useful as it is unrealistic that lecturers are able to foster the intrinsic motivation of all students in a large-
scale course. Thus, it would rather be necessary to adapt the teaching concepts. For instance, lecturers
should foster the intrinsic as well as the extrinsic motivation of their students. One possibility for achieving
Fostering Motivation to Learn in Formal Learning Setting
Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 2
this is to encourage students to learn in times when there are no lectures at the university. To address this,
additional offers are required to reach all students adequately.
One possibility to reach students outside the usual classroom lectures is to use e-learning or mobile learning
technologies. In particular, mobile learning seems suited to provide students with ubiquitous access to
learning content independently of specific times or locations (Castillo and Ayala 2012; Zhang and Ren
2011). As most students use smartphones every day, adapting the learning concepts to mobile learning
seems desirable. Previous research studies already proved that students are positively disposed to the use
of modern technologies for learning. The suitability of using mobile learning to foster the students’ regular
engagement with learning content on a completely voluntary base has, however, not yet been researched
sufficiently. With this research study, we focus on analyzing the voluntary use of a gamified mobile learning
app in a formal learning setting. By combining gamification elements (see e.g. Sailer et al. 2017) with a
voluntary learning concept, we want to encourage students of an information systems (IS) lecture to learn
small learning units (so-called micro content) every single day. The contents provided by the mobile
learning app are coordinated with the lecture and complement it appropriately. By providing a gamified
quest-based approach, students should be encouraged to engage with the learning content daily. In
particular, the mobile learning app provides a single learning quest for each student every single day. After
answering the quest, students get feedback about their learning performance immediately. Furthermore,
by using the app the students can collect badges and get access to their individual statistics. By applying our
improved learning concept in a large-scale IS lecture, we will be able to get insights into the students’ use
of mobile learning applications.
With this procedure, we will close the gap present in research and practice how to foster the students’
engagement to learn voluntarily on a regular basis. Thus, we ask the following research question:
RQ: How should a mobile learning app be designed that is able to foster the students’ daily
interaction with it on a voluntary basis?
To answer this research question, the remainder of our paper is structured as follows: First, we describe the
relevant background of our research study in the next section by defining basic terms and outlining related
research papers. Following this, we present our research design based on the Design Science Research
Process Model by Peffers et al. (2008). Then, we focus on the iterative design process and outline the current
status of our ongoing field study as well as the results to be expected until ICIS 2019. Finally, we summarize
our results in the conclusion.
Related Research
This research paper addresses multiple research topics including mobile learning, micro learning, and
gamification. All three concepts are closely related and part of recent research.
The research stream of mobile learning is a special form of technology-enhanced learning (Decker and
Schumann 2017). It focuses on using mobile devices (usually smartphones and tablets) for supporting
learning processes (Castillo and Ayala 2012). Main advantage of this concept is that learning can take place
independently of a specific time or location due to the mobility of the devices (Castillo and Ayala 2012;
Zhang and Ren 2011). The limited screen sizes and input and output capabilities imply that the learning
content presented within mobile learning applications usually needs to be adapted. In the current research,
these small learning units are known under the term micro content (or micro learning units). They can be
characterized as small units that can be learned within a short timeframe (usually only a few minutes) (Job
and Ogalo 2012; Kovachev et al. 2011). Micro content should be self-contained and not be dependent on
other learning materials. In prior research, many studies exist that focus on designing mobile learning apps
using micro content for imparting knowledge in informal situations. Exemplary cases exist that target
language learning, mathematics or location-based learning in outdoor settings. Common in many mobile
learning studies is that they target specific learning tasks often independently of a formal learning setting.
Thus, the needed integration into a formal learning setting as it is required in our case is often missing.
Besides this missing integration into formal learning settings, a common pattern can be identified: Mobile
learning apps often integrate gamified elements as they are known from smartphone games in order to
encourage learning. Applying those gamified contexts, which are known from gamification research (see
e.g. Deterding et al. 2011), to the application area of learning has been proven as suited to encourage
learners to learn (Hamari et al. 2014). Research on gamification is often grounded in the self-determination
Fostering Motivation to Learn in Formal Learning Setting
Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 3
theory (Ryan and Deci 2000) and the MDA framework by Hunicke et al. (2004). The main focus of
gamification is usually to foster the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation of users within information systems.
Especially intrinsic motivation seems desirable, as users who are intrinsically motivated will use an
information system on their own without external pressure. Currently, there are still no generally accepted
guidelines for integrating gamification elements into mobile learning apps. However, in previous research
studies measuring instruments have been developed that are suitable for evaluating the success of
gamification elements (see e.g., Sailer 2016) like the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (CSDT undated) or the
Situational Motivation Scale (Guay et al. 2000). Thus, in a post evaluation of mobile learning apps, it is
possible to analyze if the students’ motivation could successfully be fostered. In addition to that, evaluation
studies of mobile learning apps should also focus on students’ user experience (e.g., using the User
Experience Questionnaire (Laugwitz et al. 2008)) and the overall learning outcome. To measure the
learning outcome, post-tests are particularly suited.
Research Design
In the following, we outline our research design that is based on the Design Science Research Process Model
by Peffers et al. (2008). By applying an adapted version of the process model, we aim at
(1) deriving a learning concept that is suited to foster daily learning (completed),
(2) designing a mobile learning app based on the derived learning concept (completed), and
(3) evaluating the implemented mobile learning app in a field study to validate the learning concept and the
app (ongoing research).
As displayed in Figure 1, we divided our research design into two main tasks: a design task and an evaluation
task. The aim of the design task is to cover a complete design science research process that results in an
implemented software artifact for a given problem known from practice (Level 1 contribution according to
Gregor and Hevner 2013). The second task targets an evaluation of the implemented mobile learning app
in a field study. The main advantage of our evaluation task in comparison to common mobile learning app
evaluations is that in this study participants get the opportunity to use our app for the duration of a whole
semester. Using an application for a longer period of time seems particularly important in learning settings
as the usefulness and sustainability of a learning concept can often only be evaluated after it has been
extensively tested.
Figure 1. Problem-oriented design science research approach adapted from Peffers et al. (2008)
Starting with the design tasks, we applied the first five steps known from Peffers et al. (2008): Based on the
common problem in university teaching of missing intrinsic motivation to learn regularly in time spans
Fostering Motivation to Learn in Formal Learning Setting
Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 4
when no in-class teaching takes place (see section Introduction), we identified the problem statement for
our study (see next section). Based on this, we derived a learning concept that is suited to be applied in
formal learning settings targeting large-scale teaching courses where the student-to-lecturer ratio is high.
Subsequently, we deduced requirements that are the basis for the technical design and implementation of
our mobile learning app. After the first development iteration, we demonstrated it in a laboratory study to
20 student assistants to get feedback about the functionalities of the technical implementation, usability
issues, and the learning content. In the second development iteration, we targeted all identified flaws of the
laboratory study, which resulted in our final mobile learning artifact. Using the resulting artifact, we already
started our field study. At the end of the semester, we will ask the students to fill out a survey questionnaire.
Using the survey results as well as collected usage data, we will evaluate our mobile learning concept
including the app. A detailed overview of the future research steps as well as the expected results until ICIS
2019 is given in the final section if this paper. Furthermore, we will be able to continue the field study in
future semesters to analyze further aspects in more detail.
Designing a Mobile Learning Artifact
Problem Identification
As already outlined in the Introduction section, a lack of (intrinsic) motivation to learn self-determined can
be identified in many large-scale university courses. This may not be true for students in the final semesters
of their study programs when they are able to choose specific specialization courses in accordance with their
personal interests. However, especially in the first semesters, students are often not able to choose specific
courses but are required to complete courses covering basics. These courses are in many cases mandatory.
In those courses, students need to learn basic methods that are needed in further specialization areas. Often
those courses are taught as large-scale courses with a student-to-lecturer ratio larger than 100. The
underlying learning concepts often do not allow individualized support for students. Thus, individual
interests can often not be addressed appropriately. As we can see in our first-year course targeting up to
700 students per semester, many students are not intrinsically motivated to learn regularly during the
semester, but only start learning shortly before the exam. Thus, the exam puts pressure on students and
motivates them extrinsically. Even though the strategy of learning shortly before the exam may be sufficient
to succeed in the final exam, long-term learning success can be questioned.
Objectives of a Solution
Based on the problem statement, we focus our research on fostering the students’ motivation to learn on a
regular basis not just shortly before the exam using a mobile learning concept. Mobile technologies
seem especially suited to us as students know the technology and use them constantly sometimes even
during lectures. By targeting smartphones, we hope to provide students with a solution they will adopt to
easily. Relying on the micro content concept has the additional advantage that students do not need to
invest too much time to complete a learning unit. Thus, they can integrate the short learning processes
easily into their everyday life.
Learning Concept
As we chose a problem-oriented design science research approach, we ground our research in the described
real-world setting. As common in large-scale university lectures targeting first-year students, our learning
setting currently has several components to provide students with adequate learning possibilities:
1. An in-class lecture that is held once a week by an experienced senior lecturer. The main objective of this
in-class lecture is to teach methodical and theoretical knowledge to students.
2. Tutorial sessions that are taught by teaching assistants in computer pools with an average student-to-
assistant ratio of approx. 15-to-1. The main objective of these tutorial sessions is: (1) to give a hands-on
tutorial how to apply specific methods and use software tools and (2) to give all students the possibility
to solve exercises in-class on their own. Thus, the tutorials mainly focus on teaching and training
procedural knowledge.
3. Additionally, teaching materials (e.g., the slides of the lectures and tutorial sessions) are provided for
self-study distributed via a learning management system.
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Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 5
As we outlined in the Problem Identification section above, the existing three components of the learning
concept have often not resulted in an intrinsic motivation to learn on a regular basis. Instead, most students
start learning only shortly before the exam. To address this issue, we rely on the self-determination theory
(Ryan and Deci 2000) and the MDA framework (Hunicke et al. 2004) that enable us to enhance the existing
learning concept to foster intrinsic motivation. An essential aspect of intrinsic motivation is that it cannot
be fostered by force or pressure. Thus, adding a voluntary component to our learning concept seems most
reasonable. Additionally, gamification elements should be used to foster the enjoyment of the students to
use the app.
Figure 2. Methodical overview of the adapted learning concept
Overall, we want to achieve that students develop a routine to learn regularly. By providing new learning
contents every single day during the whole semester (including weekends and bank holidays), we assume
that we can foster the routine further. Nevertheless, our newly added component should not be a burden to
students. Thus, we chose to focus on small micro contents that can be learned in very short time ranges (in
our case up to 5 min at most). Due to the focus on short learning units, we particularly aim at providing
learning units that repeat factual knowledge, which is relevant for understanding the lecture contents. As
one semester term lasts for approx. 100 days in our case, the total time to use this new component will only
require approx. 8 hours of learning time. As we expect that the daily use will result in a shortened time
needed for the exam preparation, students will not be overloaded by the additional learning resource. Figure
2 summarizes the extended learning concept.
Requirements
To implement the described learning concept, four main functional requirements are needed. First, the
most essential aspect of a mobile app implementing the concept described above is the provision of
learning quests based on the current date (Functionality 1 (F1)). Thus, this requirement has the aim
to present the learning contents to the students on a daily basis. As described above, an important aspect
of the learning concept is that the learning content is only visible for one day. After accessing a quest, it will
be stored in a personal archive. By accessing the personal archive, students will get the possibility to resolve
all collected quests again as often as they like to. Thus, they can prepare for the final exam. Due to this
concept, quests are intended to become a special collectible, as they can only be retrieved and saved within
a short time range of 24 hours. This should make it desirable to use the app on a daily basis.
Following the provision of quests, functionalities are needed to enable an automated evaluation of
learning quests (F2). This functional requirement is needed to fulfill multiple tasks within the learning
concept as it provides the main data source for all gamification aspects:
G1. It enables the app to provide instant feedback to students. Based on the automated evaluation the app
can present the correct solution to a quest if a student fails to answer it correctly. This gamification
element acts as a challenging component according to Hunicke et al. (2004).
G2. The resulting evaluation score can be used to award ranking points to the students. These points can
(1) trigger the desire to collect these points (Blohm and Leimeister 2013), (2) promotes the wish to
acquire a specific status (Blohm and Leimeister 2013), and (3) the summed up ranking points can be
used to provide a ranking list comparing the students’ results with their fellow students. Thus, an
additional competitive (Blohm and Leimeister 2013) and challenging gamification component
(Hunicke et al. 2004) can be added.
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Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 6
G3. The evaluation results can further be used to outline the level of knowledge to the students. Thus, they
can get individualized feedback concerning their learning progress, i.e. using performance graphs
(Sailer et al. 2017). Based on the feedback, students can be positively motivated to further increase
their level of knowledge (Blohm and Leimeister 2013). However, it must be considered that negative
feedback may also have a negative impact on motivation.
G4. Finally, the results can be used as a basis for assigning further collectibles (i.e. badges) to students
based on specific predefined criteria. For instance, badges are issued if a certain number of quests has
been solved correctly or if a quest has been solved every day for a specific time range. This could also
trigger the game dynamic of collecting such items (Blohm and Leimeister 2013).
An essential prerequisite for these elements to be effective is that the students get access to it. Thus,
functionalities to visualize gamification statistics (F3) are needed for each of the elements
mentioned above.
By implementing F2 and F3, the gamification elements can be realized. However, additional functionalities
are required to provide proper access to the most important collectibles: the quests. Thus, we propose that
students need to get access to a list of all quests they have collected. Furthermore, they need
functionalities to replay the quests (F4). Thus, the collected quests become a further incentive for the
students as they can be used as a preparation tool for the final exam.
Design & Implementation First Iteration
Based on the deduced requirements, we implemented the so-called Daily Learning Bit App. The mobile
learning app implements all outlined requirements and thus, is an instantiation of our learning concept.
Figure 3. Overview of the typical usage flows within the Daily Learning Bit App
As F1 and F2 are requirements that are needed for the actual learning process (i.e. interacting with the daily
learning content), we decided that the app should guide the students step-by-step through the process of
interacting with the quest by:
(1) presenting quests that cover exactly one particular topic of the lecture or tutorial session either as single-
choice, multiple-choice or cloze texts to students automatically after starting the app,
(2) evaluating the answers automatically,
(3) providing individualized feedback about the given answer and
(4) awarding ranking points and badges.
In addition to that, students are able to access the additional functionalities (F3 and F4) via the app’s
navigation sidebar. This way, they are able to access their gamification statistics to get in-depth feedback
about their performance and competitive comparison with their fellow students. Additionally, they can
access their list of collected quests and replay all quest in a random order. Figure 3 summarizes the typical
usage flows and shows an exemplary quest.
Fostering Motivation to Learn in Formal Learning Setting
Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 7
Figure 4. Screenshots of the developed mobile learning app that is the basis of our field study
To implement the app, we chose the progressive web app approach (see e.g. Google Developers 2018;
Malavolta 2016). Using this web-based approach the app is accessible on every platform via any modern
web browser. Users can install a launcher icon on the operating systems Android and iOS (Steiner 2018).
Thus, users of these mobile operating systems get a native app-like user experience. Furthermore, we rely
on the web development framework Framework7 (Framework7 2018) to design our user interfaces. The
framework is able to automatically adapt its design based on the users’ devices. Figure 4 visualizes selected
screenshots of the final app.
Demonstration and Evaluation in a Laboratory Study
After finishing the first iteration of the development cycle, we demonstrated the Daily Learning Bit App to
20 student assistants, who are familiar with the lecture and its content. The student assistants got enough
time to test the app entirely. To speed up the test time to approx. one week, we removed the limit to solve
only one quest per day. Thus, the student assistants could answer as many quests per day as they liked to.
As our main objective in this laboratory study was to get feedback about the technical implementation, this
is not a problem. As a result of the laboratory study, we analyzed the written feedback reports. Overall, the
student assistants acknowledged the functional capability of the app. They could use all the functionalities
that we implemented. However, some minor usability flaws were mentioned and most important, we
received some hints on how to improve the instant feedback dialog as described in the next iteration step.
Design & Implementation Second Iteration
Using the feedback of the laboratory study, we improved the app by fixing the usability flaws and enhancing
the instant feedback dialogs. Whereas in the first development iteration, students had to visit the statistics
page to get a detailed overview of the quests’ correct answers, we now provide this information immediately
via a dialog popup. Additionally, the students will get an instant notification if they collected new ranking
points and whether they improved their ranking. As the laboratory study did not reveal any major issues,
we decided that the Daily Learning Bit App was ready for production after the second development
iteration. Thus, we deployed it to our production server.
Fostering Motivation to Learn in Formal Learning Setting
Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 8
Ongoing Research: Demonstration in a Field Study
After finishing the design steps, we started our field evaluation of the Daily Learning Bit App. To this aim,
we made the Daily Learning Bit App public in one large scale IS lecture targeted at up to 700 first-year
students. The lecture provides the students with an overview of basics in IS (like the basics of information
handling or modelling techniques). In the first lecture, the lecturer promoted the mobile learning app as an
additional but voluntary offer that could be used by the students to learn regularly. To ensure the
voluntariness, it was pointed out that the lecturer and the teaching assistants are not able to see the results
of individual students.
Based on a pre-analysis of the collected pseudonymized usage data after approx. one month of the field
study, we can already communicate that a significate amount of approx. 50 % of the active users of the Daily
Learning Bit App answered at least several quests per week. This indicates that the overall learning concept
is suited to foster the students’ motivation to learn on a regular basis. However, to get a more detailed view
on the suitability of the learning concept and overall learning outcome, additional data is required. First,
we are focusing on the design aspects of the app. To this aim, we will analyze the usage data in more detail
and present results at the ICIS 2019 conference. In addition to that, we are going to ask all students of the
lecture (app users as well as non-app users) in this semester as well as in following semesters to participate
in a quantitative survey at the end of the lecture term. Guided by well-known questionnaires targeting
motivation and user experience as described in the related research section, we will design a quantitative
questionnaire. By combining these data with the results of the final exam (i.e., a post-test to measure the
students’ learning success) of the lecture, we will also be able determine the learning outcome, which is the
most important success factor for a mobile learning application. We will be able to present first results of
the field study at the ICIS 2019 conference. In particular, we will be able to give detailed insights into the
students’ usage of this gamified mobile learning app.
Conclusion
This short paper aims at analyzing a novel solution for fostering students’ motivation in large-scale lectures
to learn on a regular basis. In particular, we intend to address the practice-oriented problem of missing
intrinsic motivation to learn regularly in formal learning settings by proposing a voluntary learning concept
that uses a gamified mobile learning approach. To this end, we presented the preliminary results of our
design science research approach in which we developed a learning concept and the corresponding Daily
Learning Bit App. After developing our mobile learning app in two design iterations, the preliminary usage
data of our field study indicate that students are adopting it. The survey and usage data from the current
lecture term as well as from upcoming semesters will allow us to evaluate our approach comprehensively.
As a result of this research project, we intend to contribute to the design of digital learning concepts and
future learning environments. With the preliminary results in mind, we expect to provide valuable insights
regarding the effects of providing students a voluntary learning concept based on a gamified approach. In
contrast to other learning approaches that are often not suited to foster the students’ intrinsic motivation
(e.g., by requiring mandatory homework assignments), we believe that voluntary learning concepts are
particularly suited to foster the students’ intrinsic motivation to learn, which is expected to be beneficial for
the (long-term) learning success.
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... If left unanswered, they disappeared from the list. According to an earlier study using this approach [15], this was expected to increase motivation to use the app as intended (i.e., continuous repetition) as opposed to using it for cramming before the final exam. Automated feedback on the correct answer option was given directly after each question. ...
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