What drives student’s motivation to learn?

I’ve been thinking this question quite a bit lately through my “teacher” goggles. My background is in R&D and I’ve been building virtual learning platforms where motivating students has always been in front and center but the development goals have mostly been focused on motivating users to start using/keeping them in the platform. Building mechanisms in a learning platform to support the motivation to learn is a totally different beast and very difficult to execute because students have many ways how they learn. My point however is not to talk about technical learning platforms but more on my experiences how students’ motivation to learn can be sustained through game design based learning and co-creation. I have shamelessly plugged paragraphs from an article that we submitted to ECGBL (European Conference on Games Based Learning) conference to show why we did what we did and also show the feedback on how the students have felt on their own learning process.

I remember from my own studies that I was most excited about the courses where we got to create new things. I have never been that interested in programming but we had a course where we had to learn flash (I know, a relic) and the reason why I found the learning process very motivating was the goal of making a game while learning to program. Goes without saying that before you get to create anything cool you need to have some kind of background knowledge on the topic and that’s where some reading through various sources like books, articles, videos etc. comes in handy. In my own experience the learning intensifies when you get to apply your recently acquired knowledge in unknown waters where the treasures are buried deep. The deeper they are the bigger the prize and success! To be honest, in my own example the game itself wasn’t anything earth shuttering but we were very proud of it and it was actually used in a R&D project’s website to entertain the visitors. Yay!

Versatility is king!

In the Chips for Game Skills- project we have had students with various backgrounds (Master and bachelor from business, IT and law) and while none of them had previous experience in developing games, they all had one thing in common: passion for games! This is ideal scenario from learning perspective as there are no previous biases towards game development and they can start to paint their first master piece on blank canvas. Throughout the project cycle multiple substance topics (project management, business modeling and legal issues) as well as soft skills (team work, interaction and communication, self-motivation) have been integrated to the game development process.

The Producers

The first batch of students were studying project management and business. They were integrated in the game teams to manage the workflow and teams but it was quickly recognized that they also needed to understand the technicalities in game development to successfully carry out their work as producers. Since they were in charge of schedules and organizing meetings they had to learn how much time and effort the various tasks require in order to build a roadmap for the game. On top of that they were building a business plan which is not an isolated activity so they had to discuss in length with the developers on how to monetize the game. It requires a deep dive in co-creation and brainstorming sessions to align the business goals with game mechanics to support good monetization models. The testament of their successful learning process became obvious in the final presentations where the producers, together with developers, pitched their games to a full audience. The enthusiasm and pride towards their games was really present and best of all, they really showed that they had mastered multiple skills required in team work and game development.

The Lawyers

The second batch of students were business students who have corporate law as their major. The learning goals were to understand the hurdles on the legal side of the game industry such as IPRs, contracts and labour law, and the importance of team work and soft skills in general. So how do we mix these topics and approach them in a way that keeps the students motivated? By building a game of course!

Quotes from our accepted article to the ECGBL conference

I think these tell the story better than I could here.

At the project’s setting up phase the students were given background material relevant to the tasks in the project. This approach helped the students to get an overview on the range of topics and the purpose of the project. They formed a project team, defined roles and responsibilities of each team member and selected a project manager who was responsible for the overall execution of the project and for presenting the project progress to the instructors.”[1]

This is the process that every student project group goes through in Laurea Hyvinkää’s P2P model. It is very efficient way of integrating students to real R&D projects and in my opinion gives the students extra motivation. We wanted to integrate Game Design Based Learning to the P2P framework and see how they fit together. The reasoning behind this was the following:

“When students design the learning content through a game, they must utilize different skills such as analysis, evaluation, creativity and revision. They also get to practice their project management skills, including planning and monitoring, and problem solving as a team. The game design problems always have many possible solutions and through trial and error the students understand the importance of iterations and quickly dropping designs that don’t work. In this process, communication, feedback and negotiation skills are essential as the project team is working towards a common goal that everyone can stand behind of. Their intrinsic motivation and learning is higher when the knowledge they had absorbed was transformed into something tangible and personally meaningful.” [1]

They started developing a board game to motivate game developers, especially start-ups, and game students to learn about legal matters in the game industry as the “game environment is a familiar context to the game students. In addition, games enable the utilization of different orders of legal design interventions, such as plain language, visual composition, interactive tools and complete journey, and create a motivating learning environment. Learning by playing is an efficient way for learners to internalize the knowledge they have learned.” [1]

The other learning goal was for the law students to get acquainted with IPRs, contracts, labour law etc. during the game development process.

“The main attention was paid to finding ways of motivating students to learn law through co-creation in game design process and gameplay. According to our observations, both the co-creation process and the gameplay increase students’ intrinsic motivation to learn the legal topics and processes relevant to game businesses. Learning through co-creation and game development process is a motivational way for students to learn, because users are integrated in the process as partners and co-creators and there’s a possibility to share expertise in agile design sprints and to utilise the strengths of each team member.” [1]

Soft skills are important

Also, training of soft skills were present in the game development process as well as in the game.

“We have identified the following four skills: 1) teamwork skills, 2) learning skills, 3) interaction and communications skills, and 4) self-motivation skills. The four elements were selected to represent the most critical skills needed in game development teams to ensure smooth game development from idea to a published game, and to enable successful careers in game companies. These elements were presented during the game development process when the students had to come up with questions for the game. They needed to think of real situations from their own working life experiences that required the management of the soft skills. The morale and ethics of human behavior and the consequences of actions in certain real-life situations were also discussed.” [1]

Let the students talk

The game was absolutely great and I want to congratulate the students for it! In my opinion they also learned a lot during the process (well, they are still progressing the game). But don’t take my word for it, see what they had to say:

“An utterly mind-numbing legal topic becomes fascinating when you can take the time to discuss about the topics and share opinions and experiences. In the meanwhile you network with people you’ve made contact with.”

“Co-creating during different project cycles and playing the game with other stakeholders is much more satisfying than cramming from a book for an exam.”

The reflections from the students in their learning diaries revealed that the legal contents were easier to grasp through the game development process utilising legal design than in traditional education:

“As we focused on the principal goal, which was developing the game, learning happened almost imperceptibly for us. As we were gathering materials for the game, we had to constantly edit and outline the content which made us go over and over the topics.”

“The repetition and constant remodeling of the questions really facilitated the learning process instead of just memorizing things. You also must focus on making the content relatively clear and easy to understand for yourself. It is impossible to make good question cards about an issue you don’t even yourself understand.”

“In the game development process that include legal concepts, we have learnt the importance of paying attention to the form of the texts and using the right terminology. Examples from real life support the understanding of the legal issues.”

Additionally, our experiences revealed that playing the board game supports peer learning and social interaction, and thus facilitates the learning of soft skills:

“The players may also bring their own spice via humour to the learning situation. The topics of the game can also be divided into different sections and levels. In the game the goal is to win by getting more points than other players. As one wants to win he or she might step back to weight the answer options: Why one answer option would be the right one instead of others. This kind of thinking process compared to memorizing is much more effective when trying to separate essential facts from unimportant ones.”

“A quiz game processed utilising legal design is a great learning tool, because law is hard to understand for the majority of students. Game setting enables adding fun and cheerful elements to learning and counterbalancing the toughness of the main topics. It is much less stressful to learn through a game than study these things from a book or on e-courses. Answering wrong in a game once in a while doesn’t feel as bad as a failure in an examination.” [1]

To the title’s question I would say that the drive and motivation can be found by building something special together where everyone in the team understands the goals and what it takes to get there. The learning comes as a byproduct! Learning can be fun and I recommend to bring some game elements in to the learning process!

Have a fantastic and sunny summer!


1) Kuhmonen, A., et al. Motivating students to learn law through co-creation in game design process and gameplay. To be published in proceedings of 13th European Conference on Games Based Learning, 3 – 4 October 2019, Odense, Denmark