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Advanced courses attract students who are already motivated to learn the subject matter.  These students completed introductory courses and decided to focus on the subject matter.  When they enroll in advanced courses they have a purpose of their study defined, they have a measure of autonomy as they selected this field of study, and they often performed well in introductory courses, therefore they have evidence of their mastery in the field.  These three constitute the foundation of motivation according to Daniel Pink in a book “The Drive” (Pink, 2009).

In contrast, some STEM introductory courses are required in various major concentrations, therefore students have limited feeling of autonomy in selecting introductory courses.  The above environment causes introductory courses to be a field of conflict between faculty, who may not be motivated to teach the course and students who are not motivated to learn.  A short description of an attitude toward a non-major, required introductory course is: idk & idc.  This stands for “I don’t know and I don’t care”.

The difference between teaching methods used in introductory courses versus advanced courses can be illustrated with a physical chain.  In advanced courses an instructor is a leader and communicates with willing participators.  A chain is made up of many individual links.  It can be directed and led with ease when the first link, the leader, moves.  Since the links are connected they will follow and the process will be successful.  However, introductory courses are like a chain, where the leader is not recognized through authority or experience, therefore the leader is pushing the chain instead of pulling it.  The teacher in introductory courses tries to move the chain by pushing content on students and a chain cannot be pushed into a direction.  Therefore, in introductory courses each link needs to be motivated and influenced.

Gameful design of introductory courses provides the individualized motivation for each student.  Since students vary in academic experience, knowledge, and interest in the subject matter they require unique elements of autonomy, purpose, and mastery.  This in turn goes along with Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, which is an optimal area of learning and productivity between boredom and anxiety (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).


They key is to provide individualized experience for students and yet to provide a comparison and competition between them.  The case study shows how to track practice and effort in an introductory course in addition to simply academic achievement.  The more practice and exploration is completed by the student for the fun of it, not for the grade, the more satisfying the experience of the introductory course will be.

Students sometimes report that they are very busy while at college.  However, in my experience of tracking public Twitter and Yik Yak campus communications, many students report being bored and spending extensive amount of hours on watching TV series on Netflix, so called TV binge watching.  I would submit, that students make time for activities they are engaged in and motivated to do despite the load of academic activities.  Therefore, providing a selection of optional academic activities as part of a gameful design in a course, is not likely to be prevented by students being too busy with academic work.

Another instructional technique that gameful design opens up is microlearning (Mosel, 2015).  The missions created to explore the subject matter can take just a few minutes of time or an extensive amount of time.  One of the case study missions is the Hour of Code produced by code.org.  Students can choose to complete a one hour version or a twenty hour version of the activity.  Microlearning means interacting with microcontent like Tweets, blogs, online code.org activities.  In an introductory course microlearning allows for reminders of the new subject matter after class and casual exploration of individual concepts.

The strategic goal of gameful design of the class is to create a failure-safe learning environment.  When a student fails on a graded assignment, while some learning takes place, the punishment creates negative emotional reaction.  When an optional assignment is provided, where the risk of failing is lowered, the same failure is more likely to become a teaching moment.  Failure is where the learning takes place.

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asks, What makes a life worth living?


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Mosel, S. (2005). Self Directed Learning With Personal Publishing and Microcontent. Constructivist Approach and Insights for Institutional Implementations, paper presented at the Microlearning 2005 conference, June 23-24, 2005, Innsbruck, Austria, retrieved June 16, 2010 from http://www.microlearning.org/micropapers/MLproc_2005_mosel.pdf

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.