Intrinsic Motivation and the Process of Learning: Beneficial Effects of Contextualization, Personalization, and Choice



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Intrinsic Motivation and the Process of Learning: Beneficial Effects of Contextualization, Personalization, and Choice

Diana I. Cordova and Mark R. Lepper


Intrinsic Motivation and the Process of Learning: Beneficial Effects of Contextualization, Personalization, and Choice, Diana I. Cordova and Mark R. Lepper, Journal of Educational Psychology 1996, Vol. 88, No. 4, 715-730

This experiment examined the effects on the learning process of 3 complementary strategies—contextualization, personalization, and provision of choices—for enhancing students’ intrinsic motivation. Elementary school children in 1 control and 4 experimental conditions worked with educational computer activities designed to teach arithmetical order-of-operations rules. In the control condition, this material was presented abstractly. In the experimental conditions, identical material was presented in meaningful and appealing learning contexts, in either generic or individually personalized form. Half of the students in each group were also offered choices concerning instructionally incidental aspects of the learning contexts; the remainder were not. Contextualization, personalization, and choice all produced dramatic increases, not only in students’ motivation but also in their depth of engagement in learning, the amount they learned in a fixed time period, and their perceived competence and levels of aspiration.


Three parallel versions of a computer game designed to teach arithmetical and problem-solving skills, most notably the hierarchy of the order of operations and proper use of parentheses in arithmetic expressions, were created. All three version were patterned after a commercially available software package for the Apple II computer entitled “How the West Was One + Three * Four” which was originally designed at the University of Illinois as part of the PLATO project by Bonnie A. Sieler. This educational program has been utilized in other research project “How the West was Won(WEST)” by Burton & Brown. WEST is typically used by one student playing against the computer’s Expert. It is also possible for two students to play against each other, in which case differential models are constructed for each student, thereby enabling coaching for both players.


Computer-based tutoring/coaching systems have the promise of enhancing the educational value of gaming environments by guiding a student’s discovery learning. Computer games provide rich, informal environments for learning where the student explores at will, creates own ideas, invents own strategies. Major problem with educational use of games requires amount of tutorial resources to keep the student forming grossly incorrect models of underlying structure, to help the student see limits of his strategies, to help the student discover causes of manifested errors. Coach necessary for learning environments to recognize and explain weaknesses in student action, to suggest ideas when the student appears to have none. Coach should be perceptive enough to make relevant comments but not so intrusive as to as to destroy the fun in the game.
In the best case of instructional games, the goals of winning the game and learning material are congruent and mutually supportive; under such conditions, the added motivational value of presenting instruction in a game format should result in increased learning.



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