Efficacy of reward allotment on children's motivation and learning

Zhenhua Xu, Earl Woodruff, Bodong Chen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


With the recent commercial success and increased use of digital games, the study of motivation has gained new impetus in the field of gaming. Indeed, studies of video games have provided a different route to understanding motivational processes. Recent books by game theorists and researchers have pointed out that the world of gaming has produced a large amount of data illuminating how games enhance self-directed learning, deepen engagement, and foster important 21st century learning skills (Koster 2005; Annetta 2008; Chatfield 2010; Rupp, et al 2010; Shih et al 2010; Thomas & Ge 2011; Shute & Ke 2012). The present study has a narrow focus on game reward structures and motivation in gameplay. It explores how a reinforcement schedule sustains children's motivation in a game context. Specifically, it assesses the effects of reward allotment for an interactive game through the examination of students' variations in response to different reinforcement schedules. Fifty-four Chinese children from preschool to grade three were recruited to play a number-matching game on Sifteo cubes. Two types of reward allotment-25% only, and an escalating 25-75% reward reinforcement-were examined in this number-matching game. Overall, this experimental study revealed that both the 25%-chance-of-winning reinforcement schedule and the escalating 25-75% reinforcement schedule both effectively sustained children's motivation in the game-play on Sifteo cubes. Most importantly, however, children showed a higher level of engagement when the reward frequency changed from 25% to 75%. Given that motivation plays a central role in determining how we select and persist in processing information, the present study speculates on how the use of extrinsic motivation engages students in 21st century knowledge building. Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993) indicate that knowledge building involves the mastery of expert problem solving skills, and that begins with participation in the collaborative process of sharing and distributing expertise. To us, pursuing new ideas in order to push boundaries or to increase one's expertise may itself be a motivational process. Thus, we need to look for the critical extrinsic factors built into the knowledge-building environment and to explore how to appropriately use extrinsic motivation in the development of 21st century skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication7th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2013
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Dec 1 2013
Event7th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2013 - Porto, Portugal
Duration: Oct 3 2013Oct 4 2013


Other7th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2013


  • 21st century skills
  • Feedback
  • Game engagement
  • Motivation
  • Reinforcement schedules
  • Sifteo interactive game


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