In a recent paper published in the International Journal of Information and Learning Technology, two University of Akron researchers studied how the design features of a popular app game could be applied to designing online courses.

The game analyzed was King Entertainment’s “Candy Crush Saga,” a tile-matching puzzle game that is not educational in itself. The focus on the game was done in part to understand why app games can retain attention (or learner persistence) of students so well, while students sometimes struggle or give up on online courses or online course content.

Evangeline and Maria Varonis, the mother and daughter research team, studied four general design features of the game (cognitive, emotional, structural, and social) for the purpose of understanding how they can be applied to course design to improve learning outcomes.

One of the important features of Candy Crush for the comparison is the way the game levels resemble course modules used in online courses. Modules are distinct learning tasks that are usually solved in sequential order, where access to each module requires completion of the previous one. The paper also highlighted the way in which Candy Crush shuffles (or refreshes) challenges and hints as another useful design feature that could potentially be implemented into course design.

The researchers concluded that users are motivated to continue playing Candy Crush when each level offers challenges they can realistically master over time, but ones which are also not so difficult to cause them to give up. According to the paper, ways to add this sense of “flow” to course design include ensuring students understand their course goals, are able to succeed on challenges, and get encouragement to continue in the form of feedback.


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