MOOCs may have more impact on lifelong learning than I gave a credit

Hello December! I did not expect you to come around so quickly. But, since you are here, please make yourself comfortable.

It was Thanksgiving break last week. I was in NYC running around and packing as much NYC experience in 5 days as possible. I was so surprised at the number of people who brought up their learning experiences with MOOCs at those gatherings. How they like that they have access to full courses and how they allow them to learn topics that they think they are missing or want to refresh. One of my friends said as long as she wants to learn it does not matter how the course is taught. Interesting perspective. Considering learning in these environments is totally voluntary, do the teaching method and modalities not matter? What about the social aspect? None mentioned how they enjoy working with others. It was merely the interaction between the content to students that was highlighted. Without experimental studies however, there is no way of knowing what really matters, and all of the MOOC platforms lack on experimental evidence on their decisions. Some want to be different so they shoot videos from different angles, does it really matter? There may be evidence on this already that I don’t know.
Well, I am back to Boston this morning with a sore throat that I dislike – well, I have had it for the last 2-3 days actually. I hope to get rid of it soon.


Design for Lifelong Learning in 21st Century

We are learning constantly. Formally and informally. Thanks to online learning environments that give a structure to our self-directed learning efforts, we learn more efficiently. MOOCs are one of those learning environments. Khan academy is one type of MOOC whereas Coursera is a brand. Each is striving to be the best learning environment to attract people and to educate them in topics to the extend that they want to be educated. It is all voluntary at the end. That is why motivation and engagement are hot topics when we talk about learner interaction in these online environments.
One of the problems I have had was the decentralization of one’s achievements in different sites. Coursera does not communicate with Khan academy or EdX. We don’t have one learning identity where I can go and see what areas that I have been working to exploring in the infinite knowledge space. Some attempts have been made such as Mozilla Open Projects ( and according to the email I received this morning , Coursera is communicating with Linkedin. So, if someone completes courses in Coursera, s/he will be able to easily insert it in their Linkedin profile. At least a start…

Educational Research Conferences – for HILT research team to consider submitting papers

I thought that getting accepted to peer-reviewed conferences can motivate us by giving us sense of accomplishment and feedback to revise our papers to send to peer-reviewed journals. Below are some of the prestigious conferences, submission deadlines and conference dates. As you will see, many of their deadlines passed. So, we should target them for the following year but it may make sense to attend to some.

International Conference of Learning Sciences (June 23-27; Boulder, Colorado) : Submission deadline: November 8th

Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association (April 3-7; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania): Submission deadline passed.

Conference of Higher Education Pedagogy (February 5-7; Virginia): Submission deadline passed.

Although not an educational research conference,  Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (April 36-May 1st; Toronto, CA) is a place to submit our research that involves student interaction with digital learning environments (including MOOCs).

Games, Learning, Society Conference: (June 11-13; Madison, WI): One of my favorite conferences to go to. Chance to present studies on engagement and digital media as they may applied to games. Submission deadline: January 31st.

On Gamification: What is it?

The number of empirical studies has been increasing supporting power of games for learning and motivation and  (see Tobias & Fletcher, 2011).

In the context of using games in everyday life, one of the hype words of the past two years has been gamification. It is one of the educational trends according to Horizon Report’s 2013 Higher Education Edition (Johnson et al., 2013).  Wikipedia’s definition of gamification highlights the problem solving: ” Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems” It specifically aims to harness the potential motivational aspect of games by highlighting what makes games powerful. Why would educators bother to gamify their classrooms as school system already has many game-like elements (e.g., grades, tasks)? Any student and teacher would tell that the mere existence of game-like elements at school does not make engage. Why is that? How will gamification create a different type of experience for students to encourage them to learn and be motivated?

As Lee & Hammer (2011) emphasize it is important to understand “under what circumstances game elements can drive learning behavior.” This is quite important considering the inconsistency of the effect of games for learning outcomes. Instead of analyzing (or perhaps, in addition to) only binary outcome of whether there is learning or not, researchers should highlight the conditions that might have caused the game to fail or succeed. For example, Hamari (2013) reasoned that introducing the badge system late (not from the beginning) might have made it pointless for some users. This is a testable question. Does it matter when to introduce badges?

Universities or individual professors can use badges. Mozilla Foundation’s Open Badges project ( is a free online platform for designing and collecting badges in portfolios that can be viewed by peers, professors, and potential employers.

Sebastian Deterding (a UX designer and gamification expert) talks about three important components of games that has to be part of gamification if it will work:

  • Meaningfulness (connect to personal goals and community, use visually supported story)
  • Autonomy (play is voluntary so design it to make them wanting to be part of the gamified system)
  • Mastery (provide clear and a variety of goals, provide feedback and challenge)

What do games do well?

1. Sense of Mastery/Sense of progress

Give students a sense of accomplishment (by overcoming challenges)

Application for the classroom:

  • give students clear goals
  • test and re-test until everyone understand the topic

2. Give a sense of agency – Games are great at providing players with a goal/goals and encouraging them create their own (usually smaller) goals. Players can work towards that goal by making choices, trying new methods until they succeed or reach their goals. Different choices have different outcomes in games and players are the ones that decide what to choose and that control over choice give people sense of agency.

Application for the classroom:

3. Make schooling more magical – Augmented Reality Games

Encourage curiosity

Increase of sense of agency

Benefits of Gamification

Cognitive —

Behavioral — Gamification use motivation science to engage people in tasks that may seem boring or uninteresting. The principles mentioned above (e.g., sense of autonomy, sense of mastery) are widely used when gamifying an application.

Affective — May impact students’ emotional experiences, their sense of identity and social positioning (Lee & Hammer, 2011)

Social — Recognition — example: Foursquare. Check into locations, accumulate points, be recognized through badges.


  • Purdue University has developed two mobile apps, Passport and Passport Profile ( passport), that integrate the Mozilla Open Infrastructure software ( The badging system was adopted by Purdue in order to identify skills that are not represented by a student’s degree, and to provide educators with another outlet to recognize student accomplishment and concept mastery.
  • Game Based vs. Traditional Learning — What’s the Difference? ( (Justin Marquis, Online Universities, 16 August 2012.) Taking a deeper look at gamification and its potential outcomes raises concerns for some. Authenticity, student engagement, creativity, and innovation are all areas that are addressed in this article.
  • Lee Sheldon, professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, discarded traditional grading in favor of earning “experience points” and converted homework assignments into quests (Laster, 2010).

As gaming culture and gamification spread through the real world, colleges will be impacted by game-based designs. There is a need for research-based, theory driven gamification projects that will prove (or disprove) the impact of gamification and tease out the conditions that specific designs work. As Lee and Hammer (2011) concluded “if we can harness the energy, motivation and sheer potential of their game-play and direct it toward learning, we can give students the tools to become high scorers and winners in real life.” Next step is to make a game plan.


Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., and Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Laster, J. (2010). At Indiana U., a class on game design has students playing to win. Retrieved from: win/21981

Lee, J. J. & Hammer, J. (2011). Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother? Academic Exchange Quarterly, 15(2).

Thinking about goals… Part I

I can’t help making goals. Every single day, I set goals, like many people, for that day or for longer terms: “I will finish reading this paper that I have been carrying in my backpack for a week” “I will be more conscious about my time on how much time I spend on browsing cat pictures on the Internet” “I will start analyzing the eye tracking data” “I will learn Spanish” Some, I achieve happily, some are devoured by the procrastination monster little by little everyday.

This blog post is the first one of the collection of blog posts (that I will write) related to goals and goal-setting in educational settings.  Although it is a big topic with extensive literature on it I believe there is more we can do. Especially I am interested in how we can utilize technology effectively in the process. There are several reasons that I decided to focus on this topic. Among these reasons are: goals are big part of motivation (see Goal-Setting Theory, Latham&Locke, 1979),  goals are the skeleton of the majority of the games (there are some games with no goals, like Sims and here Jasper Juul talks about games without goals).

Goal setting has been proven to be effective but learning how to set achievable goals is also very important. Lets think about school contexts. Many students set goals for themselves that are either too easily achievable (not challenging enough to increase their skills or knowledge) or impossible to achieve (too challenging that frustrate them and cause them to give up the goal all together)  (Atkinson, 1964). Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi  (1976) found that successful artists have identified problem finding as the most critical skill for success. And yet very little effort in school goes into teaching students how to set reasonable goals and to revise their goals as they proceed deeper into a problem. Instead school emphasizes giving students well-defined tasks, unlike anything in the real world. 

Goal setting can be used to improve the meaningfulness of the course.

There is also another layer to goal setting. Following through the goals. It is not only important to set achievable goals that students care but also to work towards these goals. I witness the same scenario every semester that my sister decides to study timely in the beginning of the semester but ends up cramming before the midterm and final exams. What she lacks is a plan. Rogers et al.’s (in press) survey of previous studies show that plan-making prompts can be used to help people follow through with their plans. Authors emphasize the importance of the plan-making process and suggest that plan-making can be tool that is designed on the premise of “making a concrete plan helps people follow through on their intentions.”  Roger et al. talk about behavioral and cognitive aspects of plan-making. For example, asking people if they intend to complete a goal, or guiding them to create the plan (when, where, how) help them to follow-through by encouraging them to develop or think about strategies to overcome obstacles. Authors underline the logistical aspect of making plans to increase the probability of putting intentions into actions. For example, if I plan to learn a new language, setting aside sometime (is concrete or flexible better?) every week to practice or take classes can increase the likelihood of achieving my goal. However, people usually fails at planning especially when their intentions to achieve a goal is stronger (they underestimate the importance of planning) (Koehler, White, & John, 2011). They cite several studies which evidence the efficacy of plan-making including a 2010 study conducted during 2008 Democratic Primary election in Pennsylvania (Nickerson & Rogers, 2010). The study showed that asking people basic questions about their planning to vote (when to vote, where to vote, how to get there) increased the voting 4.1% compared to those who in control group. In a health related context, researchers not only found that prompting people to make a plan works, but also discovered that it works the best for people if their choice is limited (better follow-through for those close to the clinic that is open only for one day a week for vaccination).

That may imply that we should not give more opportunities for procrastination when setting a timeline. That is why deadlines work. That is why frequent but small goals to achieve works – immediacy.

To make things little more complicated, studies found that the type of goals people set can have different impact on individuals performance (Latham & Seilts, 2006). To keep this post short, this will make a different blog post.

Some questions to look into:

1. Are some people better at goal setting then others? What makes them good at it?

2. Is it transferrable? Are people who are good at setting goals in one setting good at setting goals in other settings? Is this anything to do with Need for Cognition, Need for Control or Locus of Control?

3. Is goal setting a skill? In that case, you can improve it?

4. Should setting goals in the first day of school motivate students to achieve them? Perhaps setting goals + making a plan is better?


Here is the outline of the writing I will produce that will include studies to highlight what exactly works in each step and give recommendations based on these studies.

Step 1: Set goals <set S. M. A. R. T. goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Sensitive>

Step 2: Make a plan to achieve to your goal <unpack the process as much as possible>

Step 3: Carry out your plan [check if you are on the right track] <make yourself a progress bar to track your progress>

Step 4: Achieve your goal <reflect on previous steps>

How can we combine goal setting with learner autonomy to increase student motivation and learning?


Atkinson, J.W. (1964). An introduction to motivation. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.

Getzels, J., & Csikszentminhalyi, M. (1976). The creative vision: A longitudinal study of problem finding in art. New York: Wiley.

Rogers, T., Milkman, K., John, L., & Norton, M. I. (Working Paper). Making the Best Laid Plans Better: How Plan-Making Increases Follow-Through.



During the last few years, several textbooks for game students have become available. While these cover many areas well, the objective of this book is to provide a collection of research methods for undergraduate and graduate level students. The aim of the book is to provide a comprehensive overview of that ways games and phenomena surrounding them can be researched. The book is planned to consist of several individual chapters which are organized into sections showing three main approaches for game research:

  • studying games as artifacts
  • studying playing and gaming as activities
  • studying players and gamers

Each section is planned to include chapters that focus on basic research methods as well as methods for on design-oriented research.

Examples of topic for the sections include (but are not limited to):

  • methods for formal gameplay analysis
  • visual analysis of games
  • video analysis of gaming
  • methods of interviewing gamers
  • using statistical analysis
  • experimental or critical game design research
  • action research through game design
  • close readings of games
  • data mining of gameplay statistics
  • participatory observations of games

As a textbook, the chapters are intended to provide rationales for using methods, descriptions of best practices, as well as critically discussing the pros and cons of the method in focus.

1000-1500 word (+ references) abstract giving clear outline of chapter as well as the short author bio. Email your submission to as a plain text (no attachments).

Deadline for the abstract submission: October 20, 2013.

Petri Lankoski & Staffan Björk

Student Autonomy

Continuing from my previous thoughts related to learner/student autonomy in classroom or in schools in general, I will put down some notes from the papers I have been reading.

Autonomy (usually supported by providing users with choices) is one of the aspects of motivation based on Self-Determination Theory (SDT), and defined as “action that is chosen: action for which one is responsible” (Deci & Ryan, 1987, p.1025). The others are competence and relatedness. According to SDT, a person is self-determined if her psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness are satisfied. SDT suggest that we should examine authority structures in instruction and modify them to support student autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 1987). Autonomy support in classrooms requires instructors to acknowledge students’ feelings and providing them with relevant information and opportunities for choice while minimizing the use of pressures and demands (Black & Ryan, 2000, p.742). The part about minimizing the use of pressures and demands require careful design of the classroom instruction. Perhaps the instructor can give roles to students (not the authority figures) to regulate their progress in the classroom.

Perceived control is an individual’s feeling of being either an origin or a pawn (deCharms, 1968).  An origin would be “a person who perceives his or her behavior as determined by his own choosing” and a pawn would be “a person who perceives his or her behavior as determined by external forces beyond his control” (p.273-274). [This is also similar to the motivational theory of “locus of control” (Rotter, 1966) which refers to whether the cause of the event is perceived as internal or external.] People who are origins set realistic goals, determining appropriate actions that accomplish goals and assessing progress toward the goals (deCharms, 1968, 1976). By default, origins either train their metacognitive skills or have such skills in the first place (which is something I don’t know… do people born with metacognitive skills? Although intuitively it is part of the learning process, at what point people diverge on their metacognitive skills and what are the factors that affect such divergence. Something to read a bit or ask experts on metacognition).   Pawns, on the other hand, feel controlled by the external events in the environment and thus lack volitional strategies and behaviors.

Autonomy support in classrooms is associated with a number of positive outcomes including intrinsic motivation, achievement (Winert & Helmke, 1995), preference for optimally difficult work (seek for challenge), a sense of enjoyment and vitality and perceived competence (Cordova & Lepper, 1996). Autonomy support can be manifested in the classroom in various ways (Stefanau, Perencevich, DiCintio, & Turner, 2004):

  • Organizational autonomy support – can encourage a sense of well-being and comfort with the way a classroom functions… For example, by allowing students some decision making role in terms of classroom management issues. Choose group members, choose evaluation procedure, take responsibility of due dates for assignments, participate in creating and implementing classroom rules, choose seating arrangement
  • Procedural autonomy support – may encourage initial engagement with learning activities… For example, by offering students choices about the use of different media to present ideas. Such support had little impact on student perceptions of autonomy or on self-reported behaviors and cognitive engagement (Assor, Kaplan, & Roth,2002). Choose materials to use in class projects, choose the way competence will be demonstrated, display work in an individual manner, handle materials.
  • Cognitive autonomy support – may foster a more enduring psychological investment in deep level thinking… For example, by affording opportunities for students to evaluate work from a self-referent standard. Students are given opportunities to discuss multiple approaches and strategies, find multiple solutions to problems, justify solution for the purpose of sharing expertise, have ample time for decision making, be independent problem solvers with scaffolding, re-evaluate errors, receive informational feedback, formulate personal goals or realign task to correspond with interest, debate ideas freely, have less teacher talk time; more teacher listening time, ask questions. While doing all these, it is important for teachers to provide students with models. Becoming cognitively autonomous may need considerable support and practice.

Assor, Kaplan, & Roth (2002) distinguished between three types of teacher autonomy supportive behaviors:

  1. Fostering relevance by articulating the role of the learning activity in relation to the students’ personal goals
  2. Allowing the expression of student dissatisfaction with learning tasks to cause the teacher to rethink the learning activity
  3. Providing students with opportunities to choose tasks consistent with personal goals and interests.

Assor et al. (2002) reported that choice had little impact on student autonomy. Rather, it was the “extent to which one’s actions reflect one’s personal goals, interests or values” (p.273). Relevance of learning tasks to students own personal goals… If students perceive themselves as autonomous, they are more curious, more persistent, more involved and report enjoying schoolwork more than students who report low competence and autonomy.

When translated into teaching practice, it seems that autonomy support has become synonymous with choice. In that perspective, academically significant choices are limited. When testing the effectiveness of choice, Cordova&Lepper (1996) only provided students with instructionally irrelevant choices in a mathematics game. Choices were given on character name etc. Although such choices enhance learners’ ownership which may lead to persistence and increased learning, we know very little on the effects of giving students instructionally relevant choices. Offering choices in different standpoints (cognitive, organizational, procedural) may benefit learners more.

Scaffolding is important when creating a cognitively autonomous classroom (Turner & Meyer, 1999). Self-regulatory skills are needed for students to deal with academic decision making responsibilities.

If students are unable or unwilling to regulate their own behavior in line with classroom opportunities for choice and control, then it is unlikely that these opportunities will have a positive influence on motivation (Ames, 1992). Similarly, asking students to choose and make decisions on too many issues may become intimidating or confusing. Mostly because the consequences of the choices, making the choice might be overwhelming to some students. Helping students to make their choices instead of putting all the responsibility on their shoulders might facilitate to increase their autonomy.

The papers cited so far do not give definite answers with controlled empirical studies.

A 2008 meta analysis by Patall, Robinson & Civey examined the role of choice on students’ (both children and adult) intrinsic motivation and found that choice does increase intrinsic motivation, effort, task persistence and competence.



The effects of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes: A meta-analysis of research findings.
Patall, Erika A.; Cooper, Harris; Robinson, Jorgianne Civey
Psychological Bulletin, Vol 134(2), Mar 2008, 270-300. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.2.270


%d bloggers like this: