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While we’re not chatting basketball, we are finishing out the month of March with a look into new research on mobile learning. Specifically, we’re answering the following questions:

  • Can mobile games improve learning over traditional courses?
  • Are we asking the right questions around mobile technologies and learning?

Learning Programming Language through GBL

An “educational serious game” is a video game (VG) used for teaching and transferring knowledge, experience, and learned skills. This type of gamification can be implemented in many different types of experiences. Considering the rise in mobile learning, which simply references learning from a mobile device, this particular study focused on educational serious games in mobile learning (Maskeliūnas et al., 2020). For more, check out our article dedicated to mobile learning!

The primary goal of this study was to develop a mobile learning application for JavaScript learners and evaluate outcomes compared to traditional learners. Authors pulled on theories around Game-Based Learning (GBL) and mobile microlearning to design the applications, as well as human-computer interaction theories. The JavaScript algorithm game consisted of 4 blocks: “an authorization block (entering the game, choosing a topic), a game mechanics block (instructions, game rules), a learning block (user interface), and a game situation assessment block (analysis and evaluation” (Maskeliūnas et al., 2020). The “not-serious” portion of the game revolved around preventing city pollution in daily activities, to foster environmental awareness of ecological problems. In order to achieve this goal, learners must solve puzzles to generate income, while keeping pollution low, through programming-related tasks. As someone that *loves* a good game, I wanted to play! You can access the game here (Maskeliūnas et al., 2020).

Both the control and experimental groups were in a traditional classroom, with the only difference being access to the game for learners in the experimental group. Further, both groups participated in the pre- and post-tests. Results illustrated significant gains in knowledge for both groups! However, at the post-test, learners that played the game showed significantly higher evaluation scores, and change in scores, than learners that did not (Maskeliūnas et al., 2020).

(Maskeliūnas et al., 2020)

While games simply cannot replace full courses, this study provides excellent evidence that a supplementary educational serious game can improve learner outcomes. The authors also note that an important aspect of an educational serious game is to include “constant, measurable feedback,” which allows learners to adjust their behavior/learning (Maskeliūnas et al., 2020). To top off the great knowledge improvements, learners reported the game as useful and easy to use, as well as having an overall positive attitude toward the game (Maskeliūnas et al., 2020).

Overall, Maskeliūnas et al. (2020) provide an excellent starting point for future research on developing topic-specific educational serious games. The results show great promise regarding improved learning outcomes when instruction is supplemented with an educational serious game!

*Note: Regarding educational games, research has been consistent in illustrating that these types of experiences do increase learning motivation. However, I do want to point out that a lot of the findings regarding educational serious games are mixed when looking at learning outcomes, so it is likely best to evaluate if your particular learning topic is *best* formatted this way (i.e., this paper is on JavaScript programming language and illustrated positive effects).

Key Takeaway: Educational serious games, alongside instruction, may improve learner outcomes - particularly for complex topics (i.e., programming language learning). When implementing an educational serious game, it’s important to include consistent feedback for learners.

Read More (Open Access): Maskeliūnas, R., Kulikajevas, A., Blažauskas, T., Damaševičius, R., & Swacha, J. (2020). An Interactive Serious Mobile Game for Supporting the Learning of Programming in JavaScript in the Context of Eco-Friendly City Management. Computers, 9(4).

“Mobile technology for learning has the exciting potential to support… learning anywhere and anytime, to offer personalized monitoring and advising, and to enable micro-learning in which students can learn in small bits as opportunities become available.”
- Mayer (2020)

Asking the Right Learning Questions

On the topic of mobile learning, I wanted to highlight an impactful piece by Richard E. Mayer. As part of a special issue in Contemporary Education Psychology, Mayer tackles how we should go about researching learning with mobile technology (2020).

While there is no doubt that we’re heading in the direction of mobile learning, it’s important to evaluate which questions we’re asking about mobile learning. Past work often asks how we can integrate mobile technology into learning, if learners enjoy mobile learning, and how learners actually use mobile learning technologies (Xie et al., 2019; Harley et al., 2019; Epp & Phirangee, 2019). Mayer suggests that, while these other questions are also important, we should instead focus on how to promote learning with mobile technologies. To actually assess learning outcomes, Mayer posits the following questions (2020):

  • "Do learners learn “better with mobile technology than with conventional media?"
  • "Which instructional features afforded by mobile technology cause learning?"
  • Under what conditions do learners actually “learn academic content better with mobile technology than with conventional media (or by adding an instructional feature to a mobile learning environment)?”
    • Is mobile learning more effective for certain types of learners, materials, or contexts?

One reason that I appreciate these questions is, as a researcher, this guidance can set us up for evaluating the tools that we’re currently using with whatever our current audience(s) might be! For example, if a team is utilizing a mobile technology for training - are certain personas performing better on the mobile technology than in-person learners? Are learners performing better with the mobile learning when they are “at-home” vs. when they are in office? There are so many opportunities to use the questions that Mayer (2020) provides as guidance and run with in-house research!

Mayer (2020) finishes out this article by suggesting criteria for future research on mobile technology, with a specific focus on academic learning:

  1. “Focus on learning objectives.”
  2. “Focus on instructional methods afforded by mobile technology rather than technology per se.”
  3. “Focus on scientifically rigorous experiments.”
  4. “Focus on scientific attitude rather than advocacy.” - This point essentially means to let the research guide your stance if mobile technology is a good fit, not the other way around.
  5. Focus on relevant theories of learning and motivation.
  6. Use mobile technology as a research tool.

Key Takeaway: Mobile technology can be a helpful learning tool, but still requires rigorous research and testing. The above guidelines can help research and practitioners alike to evaluate if mobile technology is a good fit for the learning material.

Read More ($): Mayer, R. E. (2020). Where is the learning in mobile technologies for learning? Contemporary Educational Psychology, 60.

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

This week, June May officially wins for being a sweet companion, stunning, and snack-y 🏆

Reader Erin C. shared that June May was adopted “from a shelter in 2008 and they estimated her to be 3 years old. That was almost 15 years ago! June turns 18 in March and she is healthy and happy. She loves napping and chomping on my spider plants!”

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Katie Erhardt, Ph.D.

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