Engagement and Motivation Part IV: Intentional versus Incidental Learning

This is the fourth part of the Engagement and Motivation section of my dissertation lit review:

Intentional versus Incidental Learning

Despite advocating for the value of fun and play in education, the constructivist perspective does not recommend an environment free of structure. In contrast, the hope is to harness the strategies of motivation and engagement responsible for the incidental learning that takes place in many good games and put these strategies to use for the purposes of intentional learning in formal educational environments. Dewey explained that with games:

“an educational result is a by-product of play… in most out-of-school conditions. It is incidental, not primary… Play tends to reproduce and affirm the crudities, as well as the excellencies, of surrounding adult life. It is the business of the school to set up an environment in which play and work shall be conducted with reference to facilitating desirable mental and moral growth. It is not enough just to introduce play and games… everything depends upon the way in which they are employed.” (Dewey, 1926, p. 196)

Bruner (1971), too, “wanted to highlight the role of intention and goal directedness in learning and the acquisition of knowledge” (p. 117). Jonassen (1999) echoed these ideas when he discussed the importance of intentionality in learning. He believed that people “think and learn more [when] they are fulfilling an intention” and that “ articulating the intention is essential for meaningful learning” (p. 9). Video games meant for educational purposes “should require learners to articulate what they are doing, the decisions they make, the strategies they use, and the answers that they found” (p. 9). Video games might also serve students as a tool to use when working intentionally toward a meaningful goal; this is the role video games play in Shaffer’s (2006) epistemic games, which aimed to help students learn to think, act, and innovate like professionals. Squire (2005b) found that about 25% of students given the opportunity to learn about history and geography by playing Civilization III in school “loved playing the game, thought it was a ‘perfect’ way to learn history, and considered the experience a highlight of their school year” (p. 2). Many of these students were considered academic underachievers, but at the conclusion of the study these students had “developed new vocabularies, better understandings of geography, and more robust concepts of world history” (p. 2).

I’m seeking feedback on this writing, so please let me know what you think in the comments.