Part V | Motivations for Game-Based Learning

Part V | Motivations for Game-Based Learning

Part V of Dissertation Research Series

The goal of educators is producing motivated learners who are excited to learn, enjoying the process, trying hard, and persisting through difficulties (Garris, Ahlers, & Driskell, 2002). Games are difficult. They require deep learning as users discover the ruleset and mechanics in order to beat a game, yet games produce exactly this motivated state.  They sell millions of copies as gamers are so inherently motivated that they will spend hundreds of hours playing the game (and pay for the experience) (Gee, 2007). In contrast, schools have difficulty motivating students to learn, with middle and high school students reporting being bored 50-70%of the time they are in school (Prensky, 2012).

It is this motivational strength of games and the idea that play itself is motivating that has led so many to pursue the use of games for learning (Prensky, 2006).


Intrinsic Motivation

In watching users engage in intrinsically rewarding play with games, Malone (1981) became interested in studying the theory behind intrinsically motived learning, or learning that the individual would engage in without any external motivators (rewards or punishment).  In his seminal work, Malone (1981) described the features of environments that make them intrinsically motivating, with individual motivations of: challenge, fantasy, curiosity. Malone and Lepper (1987) later added control as an additional individual motivation. These features can be considered theories of how learning can be fun; they are not just able to be applied to games, but games inherently achieve many of these features (they are similar to the features that define a game, described previously) (Malone, 1981).

intrinsic slide.012

ARCS Model

The ARCS Model was designed to set a framework for motivation in designing cyber learning instructional environments. Keller (1999) noted that while learning environments were changing with technology, people were created cyber learning environments with low completion rates, losing track of the need to design the instruction to be motivating.

The ARCS Model outlines four conditions necessary in order for individuals to be motivated:


Attention is a pre-requisite for motivation in that it requires that students’ attention is first obtained and then sustained (Keller, 1987). A learner’s attention could be obtained through something unexpected or surprising, or evoking curiosity. The more difficult task is to then sustain attention, which requires variation so that learners do not become bored with the same instructional methods (Keller, 1999).


Relevance requires that instruction has value to the learner (Keller, 1999).This is illustrated when students often ask why they have to study something. Obtaining relevance is achieved by connecting the instruction to goals, interests, and learning styles of learners (Keller, 1999).


Confidence means that students need to expect they can be successful so that they persist through a task (Keller, 1987). Opportunities for success in learning actives and ensuring learners know that their success is due to their own actions are also important for developing confidence (Keller, 2000).


Satisfaction requires that instruction evokes positive feelings about accomplishments in order to sustain motivation (Keller, 1999). Satisfaction can be supported intrinsically with recognition and opportunities to apply knowledge, or extrinsically with rewards such as grades or certificates (Keller, 1999; 2000).





Garris, R., Ahlers, R., & Driskell, J. E. (2002). Games, Motivation, and Learning: A Research and Practice Model. Simulation & Gaming, 33(4), 441–467. doi:10.1177/1046878102238607

Gee, J. P. (2007). What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Keller, J. M. (1987). Development and use of the ARCS Model of motivational design. Journal of Instructional Development,10(3), 2–10.

Keller, J. M. (1999). Motivation in cyber learning environments. International Journal of Educational Technology, 1(1), 7–30.

Keller, J. M. (2000). How to integrate learner motivation planning into lesson planning: The ARCS model approach. VII Semanario, Santiago, Cuba, 1–13.

Malone, T. W. (1981). Toward a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction. Cognitive Science, 5(4), 333–369. Retrieved from

Malone, T. W., & Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. Aptitude, Learning, and Instruction, 3, 223–253.

Prensky, M. (2006). Don“t Bother Me Mom- I”m Learning! St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Prensky, M. (2012). From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning. Corwin Press.



Lindsey Tropf

Lindsey Tropf

Founder & CEO of @immersedgames // School psychology doctoral candidate interested in #edtech, game-based learning, and using data.

Leave a Reply

Home   About   Mission   Games   Careers   Blog   Contact  

© 2019