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Welcome, welcome! The articles in this week’s issue are both related to learning with technology. Specifically, we’re addressing the following questions:

  1. Do instructional videos or collaboration affect learning outcomes for digital game-based learning?
  2. Is enthusiasm with a pedagogical agent beneficial for learning?

Both of these studies have awesome practical applications, particularly in this very digital time!

Videos Improve Learning in Collaborative Environments

Our first article this week discusses a few of our favorite topics: gamification, collaborative learning, and instructional design. Digital game-based learning (DGBL) is an effective learning tool, often used in formal & informal educational environments. The authors of this study were curious about whether the presence of an instructional video, paired with or without a collaborative component, with a DGBL would affect learning achievement and motivation (Liao, Chen, & Shih, 2019). This is an important inquiry since instructional videos are commonplace in instruction. For instance, in training or classroom settings, a flipped classroom is often used. This enables learners to follow along with videos on their own time, which allows class time to be used for collaboration and application activities (Bergmann & Sams, 2012). However, adding an instructional video to an already stimulating learning experience may impact cognitive load. If you’re new around here, we chat about cognitive load quite a bit. In short, many researchers suggest that our working memory (when you’re actively thinking about something) can only handle a limited amount of information at once, so we don’t want to overload it. For a deeper understanding of this topic, check out Sweller (2011) and Mayer (2001).

With the topics of collaborative learning and instructional videos in mind, the researchers went forward with assessing middle school students’ performance with a DGBL for Newtonian mechanics (Liao et al., 2019). A quick timeout: if you’re a Big Nerd like me and want a refresher on Newtonian mechanics, check out this introductory lecture from Yale’s course (perk: Dr. Shankar is hilarious!). Now, back to our regularly scheduled content. The study employed a 2x2 design, meaning there were 4 groups total: 1. Instructional video with collaboration, 2. Instructional video without collaboration (solitary), 3. No instructional video with collaboration, and 4. No instructional video and solitary play (Liao et al., 2019). So, did the groups differ?

Learners with the instructional video and collaboration had a higher learning achievement than any other group (see graph below). It’s important to note here that, statistically speaking, the main effect of collaboration was not significant. However, the presence of the instruction content - in this case, a video - was!

(Liao et al., 2019)

They also found that collaboration was related to higher ratings of intrinsic motivation. Lastly, the findings regarding cognitive load were, I think, most intriguing. Collaborative DGBL appeared to put a strain on cognitive load. However, the inclusion of an instructional video appeared to decrease that cognitive load. In this scenario, the instructional video is acting as a scaffold. Scaffolding allows learners to receive assistance while learning, until they are able to complete a task on their own. Thus, the authors suggest that “when students take the time to go over necessary mental processes for game play by watching an instructional video and discussing it with their teammates, they may be able to manage their cognitive resources more effectively, thereby contributing to improved learning motivation” (Liao et a., 2019).

Key Takeaway: Try to optimize scaffolding within learning contexts. If utilizing DGBL platforms, or other gamification concepts, a combination of collaboration and instructional content may be best.

Read More ($): Liao, C., Chen, C., & Shih, S. (2019). The interactivity of video and collaboration for learning achievement, intrinsic motivation, cognitive load, and behavior patterns in a digital game-based learning environment. Computers & Education, 133, 43-55.

Does Enthusiasm Enhance Learning?

One of my passions is teaching, which is one of the reasons I’m stoked to be on this team and working with LSW! Throughout my teaching career, I’ve gotten feedback that emphasized that I am “enthusiastic” as an instructor. I try to keep up the energy in courses; after all, there’s nothing more encouraging than getting a class full of laughs. However, as a researcher, one begins to wonder - is instructor enthusiasm actually beneficial for student learning? There is an array of past research on this and it is quite definitive regarding enthusiasm in a “classical classroom” setting - spoiler: enthusiasm is good! However, there is very little work assessing whether enthusiasm in a pedagogical agent is beneficial (Keller et al., 2016; Beege et al., 2020). Pedagogical agents reference those characters, animated objects, animal-like forms, etc. that guide us through a learning process (see: LSW Issue #26).

A group of researchers from the Chemnitz University of Technology ran a study to evaluate the effect of a pedagogical agent’s enthusiasm on mental load (Beege, Schneider, Nebel, & Rey, 2020). According to the emotional design hypothesis, “emotions induced during learning will influence learning results” (Park et al., 2015; Beeger et al., 2020). But how exactly will it affect learning? There are two main camps of thought. The first being that emotions could act as a suppressant. If precious energy is being spent on emotional effort, those resources cannot be spent on the task (Fraser et al., 2015). The second camp of thought is that emotions may act as a facilitator. For instance, Stark and colleagues (2018) found that perceived control leads to positive emotions, in turn promoting better learning outcomes. Emotions and learning are quite intertwined. If interested, feel free to read up on the Control-Value Theory of Achievement Emotions (Pekrun, 2006).

To evaluate pedagogical agent enthusiasm and mental load, the researchers split participants into 4 groups: 1. Low enthusiasm & low mental load, 2. Low enthusiasm & high mental load, 3. High enthusiasm & low mental load, and 4. High enthusiasm & high mental load. The videos included a pedagogical agent (see image below) giving a lesson on planets while standing in front of a static classroom. To induce mental load, students were told they would need to memorize 2 (low mental load) or 10 (high mental load) objects in the classroom. After the lesson, students were given a multiple-choice learning assessment on planets (Beege et al., 2020).

(Beege et al., 2020)

Did mental load and enthusiasm matter? Well, the results showed that learners in the high mental load groups scored higher on the assessment when their pedagogical agent had a neutral tone. However, learners in the low cognitive load group actually scored higher on the assessment when their pedagogical agent was enthusiastic (Beege et al., 2020). This is important because it tells us that emotions differentially impact learning based on the learner’s mental load.

Key Takeaway: Use caution when adding in emotional components (like enthusiasm). Assess your instructional content: if the learning scenario does not have extraneous elements that induce a high cognitive load, then enthusiasm in a pedagogical agent may be beneficial. However, if the learning scenario has extraneous elements, it’s best to keep it neutral.

Read More ($): Beege, M., Schneider, S., Nebel, S., & Rey, G. (2020). Does the effect of enthusiasm in a pedagogical agent’s voice depend on mental load in the learner’s working memory? Computers in Human Behavior, 112.

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

We have an *incredibly* photogenic furry friend this week from reader Jason W! The sweet boy below is Doug! “He really enjoys making new friends (humans and animals), loves going on walks, and is always most excited for meal time!” Thanks for sharing, Jason!

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 by Kaitlyn Erhardt, Ph.D. and edited by Julia Huprich, Ph.D.

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