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Hello, hello! Here at LSW, we’re big fans of gamification (see: LSW Issue #47). We’re continuing to expand on gamification this week by focusing on two really cool applications - an escape room and use of leaderboards.

Specifically, the questions being addressed are:

  • Can collaborative escape rooms improve engagement and performance?
  • Does the type of leaderboard matter? (Spoiler, it does!)

*There are also two open education positions at Intellum below 🧠

The Great Escape

This first article goes out to a great LXD, and friend, that has a passion for escape rooms! A study conducted by Dugnol-Menéndez and colleagues (2021) aimed to bring escape rooms into the educational realm to improve motivation and achievement for learners in occupational therapy training. The authors follow Nicholson’s (2015) escape room definition, regarding them as “live-action team-based games where players discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks in one or more rooms, in order to accomplish a specific goal, usually escaping from the room, in a limited amount of time.”

The purpose of the escape room in this context was to foster crucial occupational therapy skills, such as collaboration, as well as content knowledge and motivation (Dugnol-Menéndez et al., 2021). To this end, the researchers integrated course content into the room, anatomy and autonomy/functional independence. The escape room required learners to work as a team to solve problems while using “previously-learned knowledge” (Dugnol-Menéndez et al., 2021). Prior to and after the escape room, surveys were given to assess motivation and collaboration, as well as tests for learning performance.

Qualitatively, learners found the escape room to be fun and useful! Of course, this doesn’t always mean it is effective (see: LSW Issue #24). In this particular case, the results did support improved learning outcomes! The results illustrated that learners had significant gains in knowledge (Dugnol-Menéndez et al., 2021). Further, learners showed a “high degree of motivation,” in support of past work, as well as engaging in collaboration. Motivation is particularly important, since it is linked to academic performance and effort (Kyewski & Krämer, 2018). Through all of this, the authors point out that while it is time-intensive to create a specific escape game, this type of learning can improve outcomes and collaboration (Dugnol-Menéndez et al., 2021).

Key Takeaway: Engaging learners in a collaborative escape room can improve content knowledge, motivation, and collaboration.

  • As a side note: I found the details of the escape room to be incredibly interesting. Since the paper is open access, I encourage you to read through if it is of interest to you as well!

Read More (Open Access): Dugnol-Menéndez, J., Jiménez-Arberas, E., Ruiz-Fernández, M. L., Fernández-Valera, D., Mok, A., & Merayo-Lloves, J. (2021). A collaborative escape room as gamification strategy to increase learning motivation and develop curricular skills of occupational therapy students. BMC Medical Education, 21(544).

Does Comparison Improve Learning?

When playing games, we often want to know where we “stack up” against others. It brings me back to playing arcade games and seeing those ambiguous initials, trying to figure out who beat my high score. It really did keep us both humble…

and striving to improve!

In the learning science realm, the idea of marrying social learning and gamification is important since leaderboards can create a drive to improve. An issue with the existing research regarding leaderboards is that gamified experiences generally incorporate multiple elements. Thus, the current researchers aimed to pinpoint the impact of an individual element: leaderboards. Specifically, Bai and colleagues (2021) were interested in whether absolute or relative leaderboards would differentially impact performance, engagement, and motivation!

Absolute leaderboards are commonly used in educational settings and display the lateral position of each “player” (Tsay et al., 2018). In this sense, every learner is able to see the position of all other learners on the leaderboard. In contrast, relative leaderboards allow learners to see their position in comparison to those above and below them, rather than every single position (see below). In addition to assessing type of leaderboard, the researchers also aimed to evaluate how position can affect learner performance and motivation (Bai et al., 2021).

(Bai et al., 2021)
(Bai et al., 2021)

In the current study, postgraduate learners participated in an online course on “E-Learning Management.” Learners were able to earn points by completing online activities, such as submitting assignments and responding to discussions (Bai et al., 2021). It’s also important to note that the points did not count toward any grading in the course.

For learners with the absolute leaderboard, top-ranked learners illustrated a higher level of enjoyment than the bottom-ranked learners. However, this did not impact the perceived course engagement, potentially due to increased competitiveness. Further, there was no significant difference in learning performance (Bai et al., 2021). However, for learners with the relative leaderboard, the top-ranked learners did illustrate higher levels of achievement in learning performance than the lower-ranked learners. The authors suggest that the difference between leaderboards is likely due to being freed from the peer pressure of an absolute leaderboard. In interviews, those with the absolute leaderboard commented on setting a “goal person” they would try to reach, which was not possible in the relative leaderboard scenario (Bai et al., 2021). However, those in the relative leaderboard were more likely to work collaboratively than those in the absolute leaderboard, working to solve problems with peers rather than individually (Bai et al., 2021).

So, what does all of this mean? Absolute leaderboards are likely to promote comparison and competitiveness, which does seem to drive learning performance. However, it may negatively impact those at the base of the leaderboard. To mitigate this, the authors provide an excellent solution, which does require more research - if implementing a leaderboard, it might be helpful to display only the “top performers,” rather than all participants. Another solution might be to “reset” the points to zero after a certain amount of time (every day, week, etc.) to “level the playing field” (Bai et al., 2021). Overall, leaderboards may be integrated into educational settings in order to drive learner motivation, engagement, and outcomes!

Key Takeaway: Absolute leaderboards can be an effective tool to drive learner engagement, motivation, and performance. However, some caution must be taken - consider only displaying the “top performers” or resetting all participant scores regularly to avoid discouraged learners.

Read More ($): Bai, S., Hew, K. F., Sailer, M., & Jia, C. (2021). From top to bottom: How positions on different types of leaderboard may affect fully online student learning performance, intrinsic motivation, and course engagement. Computers & Education, 173.

Job Alert!

There 2 open positions at Intellum; come join a great education team!

Click here for more information on the Technical Writer position ✍️

Click here for more on the Learning Experience Designer position 🧰

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

I feel so honored to be (virtually) introduced to Kiki this week! She’s an incredibly cute young lass that “loves to sniff in all kinds of animal dens during her daily walk in the woods and after that to relax at the fireplace.”

She’s truly living the dream! Thanks for sharing her with us, Feike!

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 Kaitlyn Erhardt, Ph.D.

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