There exists much debate about the effects of digital technology environments on children. The study aimed to determine whether or not the use of an educational app can positively impact preschoolers’ attention development.

A connection to the Theory of Multiple Intelligence 

Howard Gardner’s widely embraced Theory of Multiple Intelligences, though a subject of much criticism, might provide a valuable segue into how technological classrooms adopt similar scaffolds for encouraging diversity in the varying degrees of student strengths, development rates, and preferences for learning. Further, there continues to be mounting evidence for how gamification elements might serve to motivate and engage learners. Elements leading to this success are clearly stated goals, self-choice, and immediate feedback. Gamification allows for all three.

Neumann & Neumann (2013) suggest how previous studies’ conclusions on computer-based tasks, serious video games, or digital cognitive training games can be used as scaffolding tools to assist with children’s cognitive development.

Developing sustained attention in children

171 children between the ages of 3 and 4 years old were divided into experimental and control groups for a quasi-experimental study. The children were all from a northern city in China and the income and parents’ education levels from the school were in the average range of the city.  The experimental group used an educational tablet app twice a week for 12 weeks in an effort to examine their sustained attention and attention orientation speed. Building on previous findings, educational digital apps could promote attention development in young children. The researchers believe their first hypothesis was proven, that tablet training with an educational app can foster sustained attention development in young children. However, their second hypothesis two – that tablet training with an educational app could accelerate young children’s attention orientation development – was inconclusive.

Sustained, but not gained

The results indicated that children in the experimental group had significantly longer fixation duration than that of the control group after 12 weeks of training using the app. However, the results did not provide evidence for accelerating the children’s orientation development. According to the study, attention in young children can be sustained but not necessarily gained from the use of technology apps. Yet, the researchers believe the outcomes show how educational game-based tablet apps lead to positive attention development in young children. The results of the study serve to reinforce previous research that children as young as 4 years old can have improvements in sustained attention with intervention.   

Aside from limiting media usage, a suggestion for practice is allowing students to complete one task before moving on to another. This requires setting up an expectation for how many tasks, activities, or games children are engaged with, as this will allow for greater ease in student completion.

Notable Quotes: 

“The study suggests more collaboration between educational organizations and software companies to create appropriate educational apps with built-in, routine school activities, and appropriate features for preschool students to operate, play, learn, and practice.”

“The main purpose of the study is to examine the effect of using an educational serious game in preschools on young children’s attention development. A preschool classroom has an environment full of visual, aural, or other distractions. Many empirical studies (Axelsson et al., 2016; Del Moral et al., 2015; Falloon, 2013; Neumann, 2014, 2018; Ramos & Melo, 2018; Walczak & Taylor, 2018) proceed with cognition, literacy, numeracy, and other digital interventions in school or classroom environments for the best ecological validity.“

“On the basis of the feedback from classroom teachers and children, a qualified, children-friendly app can play an important role in young children’s learning process… This implies that the school and the government should establish appropriate tablet- assisted educational serious game learning activities in preschool curricula. However, factors such as age, settings, children’s development level, teacher’s familiarity on an app content, and features have to be considered in the introduction of new technology. This requires evaluations and personal use experiences from educators and practitioners.”

Personal Takeaway

As an educator, the one element in the study that resonated most was the need for diversification of methods for how students might access learning. The tablet app provided for a range of activities, including video, drawings, nursery rhymes, and games versus a more traditional approach. Though evidence continues to be compiled for the positive effects of technology, the authors indicated how technology should be intentionally used and in balance. This aligns with my experiences in the classroom but also with years as a boarding school faculty house parent. The nature of this research centering on such young children and the introduction of technology only emphasizes the gravitas of intentionality


Matt Piercy

Summarized Article:

Wen Liu, Liting Tan, Dan Huang, Nan Chen & Fang Liu (2021) When Preschoolers Use Tablets: The Effect of Educational Serious Games on Children’s Attention Development, International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 37:3, 234-248, DOI: 10.1080/10447318.2020.1818999

The purpose of the study was to examine the current literature on the use of digital Game-Based Learning (GBL) for students with intellectual disabilities. The authors’ intent was to come to conclusions on how digital GBL affects the acquisition of specific skills and make recommendations on future research.

Definitions around Game-Based Learning

1. “Learning based on digital games can help students with intellectual disabilities to learn new data, learn and develop new skills, acquire life skills, develop social skills and form a way of thinking (Sigh & Agarwal, 2013). A game acts on a student through a biological, social, cultural, emotional (affective), cognitive and physical aspect and as such has a direct influence on behavior, way of thinking and perception of the world in which an individual lives and acts (Sigh & Agarwal, 2013).”

2. The authors differentiate between “educational games” (EG) and “serious games” (SG). Educational games refer to those that utilize software with game technologies and storytelling to create educational content. According to the authors, they are primarily used for the acquisition of factual information. Serious games, on the other hand, are those that reapply resources from the video game field for educational purposes. They are typically high in entertainment factor, and embed instructional content within gaming elements such as badges, levels and time-restricted challenges.  

3. The DSM-V now defines intellectual disability as deficits in “reasoning, problem solving, planning, abstract thinking, judgment, academic learning, and learning from experience”. Compared to the DSM-IV, the new edition favors comprehensive assessment based on adaptive functioning over standardized IQ scores.

Adaptive function over intellectual function

The authors of the study established the following research questions for their literature review:

1. Which specific technologies and games are used for digital GBL for students with intellectual disabilities? 

2. For which skills, abilities and subjects are the games being developed?

3. What are the characteristics of the participants in the studies, and which evaluation methods are being used to evaluate the effects of the games?

4. Do the digital GBL systems being developed have a positive impact on students with disabilities?

Only studies involving participants who have intellectual disability as a primary disability (as opposed to those who have intellectual disability as a result of other primary difficulties) were considered. 21 papers met the inclusion and exclusion criteria. According to the classifications set forth by the authors, the most common type of digital tool being used were SGs, and the most commonly used technology was the PC, along with additional equipment such as a webcam. The analyzed studies were more focused on the development of adaptive functions rather than on the development of intellectual functions. Math was the most commonly taught subject area. 15 of the 21 studies showed how the digital GBL was evaluated (the remaining 6 did not, partly because some of the game solutions were in the development or evaluation phases). These studies concluded that digital GBL contributed positively to the participants’ ability to adopt new skills.

Future inclusion of social-emotional skills

Future research could be directed towards developing a framework for the evaluation of digital educational games for students with intellectual disabilities, using a systematic and flexible methodology called Design-Based Research. 

Social-emotional skills were not covered in any of the research studies that were examined. The authors also suggest that a possible area for further development would be digital GBL for students with intellectual disabilities that focuses on recognizing and understanding emotions in others, empathizing, learning how to express feelings appropriately and establish relationships with other people.

Notable Quotes: 

1. “Learning based on digital games can help students with intellectual disabilities to learn new data, learn and develop new skills, acquire life skills, develop social skills and form a way of thinking (Sigh & Agarwal, 2013). A game acts on a student through a biological, social, cultural, emotional (affective), cognitive and physical aspect and as such has a direct influence on behavior, way of thinking and perception of the world in which an individual lives and acts (Sigh & Agarwal, 2013).”

2. “One of the possible further directions of research in this area is to create a frame- work for the evaluation of educational game solutions designed for students with intellectual disabilities using Design-based Research (DBR). DBR can be specified as a systematic but flexible research methodology which strives to improve the educational practice through iterative analysis, design, development and implementation (Wang & Hannafin, 2005). It is based on collaboration between researchers and professionals which leads to contextually sensitive principles of design and theories. DBR is an iterative process which allows the correction and improvement of solutions as many times as needed in order to satisfy all needs of the student.”

3. “The most common teaching subject is mathematics, which is in some studies combined with physical education and reading. Mathematics is followed by the field of science and reading…Most common skills are logical skills (8 studies) followed by the holistic approach of competence development, which includes motor skills, perception, cognition and visual processing, and food (4 studies). Only one or two studies dealt with the areas of professional skills, socio-emotional skills and academic skills.”

Personal Takeaway

“Gamification” of learning is an area of teaching practice that fascinates me, and it is helpful to read Stančin et al.’s meta-analysis of the existing research on the effectiveness of digital learning tools for students with intellectual disability


Akane Yoshida

Summarized Article:

Stančin, K., Hoić-Božić, N., & Skočić Mihić, S. (2020). Using digital game-based learning for students with intellectual disabilities – A systematic literature review. Informatics in Education, 19(2), 323-341.

Key Takeaway 

It is very easy to gamify or incorporate games (virtual or otherwise) into a lesson plan to improve learning and/or motivate learners to be engaged. How can we ensure that they not only improve learning but cause learning as well? Using the Universal Design for Learning framework in connection to a review of related literature on motivation and social learning, this study has identified several effective factors that need to be considered for developing serious games. —Nika Espinosa

Role of Games in Learning

Serious games are activities that “serve as mediators to directly cause learning,” as defined by Landers (2015).1 A lot of research into serious games has shown conflicting evidence on their impact on education. However, observed inconsistencies can be resolved. Drawing from theories on social learning, motivation, and the framework of Universal Design for Learning, Watt and Smith (2021) determine guidelines for designing serious games.

“Virtually all games explored in these studies were single-player computer games.” These games do not support the importance of social learning. The evidence from social constructivism tells us that learning is dependent on the interaction between the learners. “Participation in cooperative learning strongly predicts student achievement2 as well as increasing student motivation and self-efficacy and decreasing anxiety.”3 Furthermore, the literature strongly suggests that even when the game has a social component, cooperative games are found to be more effective as opposed to competitive games with leaderboards and social components. 

“Motivation and engagement have been shown to have a positive effect on learning,4,5,6 and so can be considered moderators of learning.” Glynn et. al (2011)7 would like us to view motivation as having four key components: intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, and self-determination. 

There were six social learning factors and eight motivation factors identified as effective serious game design guidelines based on the literature reviewed by Watt and Smith (2021) in connection to Universal Design for Learning. 

Social Learning Factors for Game Design

The social learning factors are:

  • Introducing team-building activities before the learning activities.8
  • When designing games, a team identity that encourages membership maintenance should be developed.8,2 
  • Game design should lean more towards cooperative rather than competitive play.9,10,11,12 
  • Ensured opportunities where each member can be an expert through developing specialties.13 
  • Ensured opportunities where each member can teach other members in their expertise,13,14,15,16,17,18 
  • Experiential learning should be supported with a level of teacher guidance.19,20,21,22,23,24,25 

Motivational Factors for Game Design

 The motivational factors are:

  • Considerations for themes or narratives that are compelling.26,7 
  • Promoting self-determination through adequate decision-making and freedom of movement.27,28 
  • Provision of multiple attempts and strategies as opposed to a punitive approach to failure.29,30
  • In order to encourage grade motivation, learners need to be assessed on content within the game.31
  • Rewarding learning as opposed to performance.7 
  • Student achievement must be evident in order to earn rewards.7,8 
  • In-game rewards for learning should be included in order to benefit later play.28 
  • Immersion and visual elements should be balanced so as not to add unnecessary cognitive load.32 

An impressive, well-developed game can take several years to develop. “These games often require budgets of over half a billion dollars and teams of hundreds of developers to produce.” Educators do not have the time nor capacity to create such games. What educators can do instead is to deliver content material in a fun and engaging manner, by using these proposed guidelines, to ensure that it does not only improve learning but that there is learning happening as well.

Summarized Article:

Watt, K., & Smith, T. (2021). Research-Based Game Design for Serious Games. Simulation & Gaming, 104687812110067.

Summary by: Nika Espinosa—Nika believes that personalized learning is at the heart of special education and strives to collaborate with educators in providing a holistic, personalized approach to supporting all learners through the MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Landers, R. N. (2015). Developing a theory of gamified learning: Linking serious games and gamification of learning. Simulation and Gaming.
  2. Tsay, M., & Brady, M. (2010). A case study of cooperative learning and communication pedagogy: Does working in teams make a difference? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, 10 (2), 78–89.
  3. Courtney, D. P., Courtney, M., & Nicholson, C. (1992). The effect of cooperative learning as an instructional practice at the college level. College Student Journal, 28 (4), 471–477. https://
  4. Paas, F., Tuovinen, J. E., Van Merriënboer, J. J. G., & Darabi, A. A. (2005). A motivational perspective on the relation between mental effort and performance: Optimizing learner involvement in instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53 (3), 25–34.
  1. Zhao, C. M., & Kuh, G. D. (2004). Adding value: Learning communities and student engagement. Research in Higher Education, 45 (2), 115–138.
  2. Carini, R. M., Kuh, G. D., & Klein, S. P. (2006). Student engagement and student learning: Testing the linkages. Research in Higher Education, 47 (1), 1–32. s11162-005-8150-9
  3. Glynn, S. M., Brickman, P., Armstrong, N., & Taasoobshirazi, G. (2011). Science motivation questionnaire II: Validation with science majors and nonscience majors. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48 (10), 1159–1176.
  4. Slavin, R. E. (2011). Instruction based on cooperative learning. In R. E. Mayer & P. A. Alexander (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Learning (pp. 344–360).
  5. Abu-Dawood, S. (2016). The cognitive and social motivational affordances of gamification in E-Learning environment. Proceedings – IEEE 16th International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies, ICALT 2016, (July 2016), 373–375. ICALT.2016.126
  6. Johnson, D. W., Maruyama, G., Johnson, R., Nelson, D., & Skon, L. (1981). Effects of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic goal structures on achievement: A meta- analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 89 (1), 47–62.
  7. Kolawole, E. B. (2008). Effects of competitive and cooperative learning strategies on academic performance of Nigerian students in mathematics. Educational Research and Reviews, 3 (1), 33–37.
  8. Qin, Z., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1995). Cooperative versus competitive efforts and problem solving. Review of Educational Research, 65 (2), 129–143.
  1. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  2. Devin-Sheehan, L., Feldman, R. S., & Allen, V. L. (1976). Research on children tutoring children: A critical review. Review of Educational Research, 46 (3), 355–383. https://doi. org/10.2307/1170008
  3. O’Donnell, A. M. (2006). The role of peers and group learning. In P. A. Alexander & P. H. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 781–802). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  4. Palincsar, A. S., Brown, A. L., & Martin, S. M. (2011). Peer interaction in reading comprehension instruction. Educational Psychologist, 22 ( 3–4 ), 231–253. 520.1987.9653051
  5. Rosenshine, B., & Meister, C. (1994). Reciprocal teaching: A review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 64 (4), 479–530.
  6. Webb, N. M. (2008). Learning in small groups. In T. L. Good (Ed.), 21st Century education: A reference handbook (pp. 203–211). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
  7. Brown, A., & Campione, J. (1994). Guided discovery in a community of learners. In K. McGilly (Ed.), Classroom lessons: Integrating cognitive theory and classroom practice (pp. 229– 270). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  8. Hardiman, P. T., Pollatsek, A., & Well, A. D. (1986). Learning to understand the balance beam. Cognition and Instruction, 3 (1), 63–86.
  9. Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41 (2), 75–86. https://
  10. Mayer, R. E. (2004). Should there be a three-strikes rule against pure discovery learning? The case for guided methods of instruction. American Psychologist, 59 (1), 14–19.
  11. Moreno, R. (2004). Decreasing cognitive load for novice students: Effects of explanatory versus corrective feedback in discovery-based multimedia. Instructional Science, 32 (1–2), 99–113.
  12. Sweller, J., Mawer, R. F., & Howe, W. (1982). Consequences of history-cued and means-end strategies in problem solving. The American Journal of Psychology, 95 (3), 455–483.
  13. Tuovinen, J. E., & Sweller, J. (1999). A comparison of cognitive load associated with discovery learning and worked examples. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91 (2), 334–341.
  14. Garris, R., Ahlers, R., & Driskell, J. E. (2002). Games, motivation, and learning: A research and practice model. Simulation and Gaming, 33 (4), 441–467. https://doi. org/10.1177/1046878102238607
  15. Black, A. E., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The effects of instructors’ autonomy support and students’ autonomous motivation on learning organic chemistry: A self-determination theory perspective. Science Education, 84 (6), 740–756. 237X(200011)84:6<740::AID-SCE4>3.0.CO;2-3
  16. Westera, W. (2019). Why and how serious games can become far more effective: Accommodating productive learning experiences, learner motivation and the monitoring of learning gains. Educational Technology & Society, 22 (1), 59–69. Retrieved from stable/26558828?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  17. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. Macmillan.
  18. Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G. V., & Pastorelli, C. (1996). Multifaceted impact of self-efficacy beliefs on academic functioning. Child Development, 67 (3), 1206–1222.
  19. Herrington, J., Reeves, T. C., & Oliver, R. (2010). A guide to authentic e-Learning. In A Guide to Authentic e-Learning.
  20. Cheng, M. T., Lin, Y. W., She, H. C., & Kuo, P. C. (2017). Is immersion of any value? Whether, and to what extent, game immersion experience during serious gaming affects science learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 48 (2), 246–263.

Key Takeaway: There are some studies supporting the notion that learning with ease suggests fluency and can lead to better performance. However, this can lead to a misconception that learning has to be easy and facing challenges is problematic. It is important to establish that difficulties are part of learning and that disfluency can open up possibilities for identity exploration. Virtual learning environments (VLEs) can be designed in such a way that they support this exploration, by looking at features such as gamification, engagement and connection, and learning supports. —Nika Espinosa

In their article, Oyserman and Dawson look at the framework of identity-based motivation and how it connects to virtual learning environments (VLEs). Identity-based motivation is about the self and the motivational power behind it. This includes procedural readiness, action readiness, and dynamic construction. “Together, these core aspects provide a framework for understanding the interplay between people’s sense of who they are, their actions, their interpretations of experienced ease and difficulty, and how learning environments may frame these processes.” 

The authors used the identity-based motivation lens to examine how to enhance VLEs. With the current global context, digital learning platforms have boomed. According to Lenhart (2016), “almost all (92%) adolescents currently go online daily and nearly three in four (72%) play games, regardless of their socioeconomic status, age, race, or gender.”1 But even before the global pandemic, as technology aims to further enhance our lives, digital platforms are increasingly being used in education. Oyserman and Dawson believe that VLEs have the potential to provide opportunities for identity exploration because they are versatile and dynamic. “As such, they can scaffold either a learn-with-ease norm that diminishes engagement with schoolwork and forecloses identity exploration or a learn-through-difficulty norm that enhances both.” Moving forward, we need to understand how to effectively use VLEs and how they can complement face-to-face learning.

In connection with identity-based motivation and the research mentioned by the authors, it can be inferred that students in a difficulty-as-importance context outperform students who are in a difficulty-as-impossibility context or even students who are not posed with either context. This is a consideration when designing VLEs. When VLEs are successful, they have the potential to improve engagement and connection when learning. “This is more likely when the VLE learning norm does not conflate ease with learning but instead links learning and engaging with difficulty.” According to the authors, VLEs can be used to identify probable future identities in relation to identity-based motivation. For example, an activity that is science-based could encourage the learner to consider a possible future in the same field. 

Meaningful learning comes with effort.2,3 When students acknowledge and accept the notion of difficulty-as-important, engagement and connection increase. In the context of well-designed VLEs, these can also be used to promote self-discovery.  

Article Summarized: 

Oyserman, D., & Dawson, A. (2021). Successful learning environments support and harness students’ identity-based motivation: A primer. The Journal of Experimental Education, 1–15.

Summary by: Nika Espinosa—Nika believes that personalized learning is at the heart of special education and strives to collaborate with educators in providing a holistic, personalized approach to supporting all learners through the MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Lenhart, A. (2016). Teens, social media & technology overview, Pew Research Center, internet/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/
  2. Kornell, N., & Bjork, R. A. (2007). The promise and perils of self-regulated study. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14(2), 219–224.
  3. Yan, V. X., Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. (2016). On the difficulty of mending metacognitive illusions: A priori theo- ries, fluency effects, and misattributions of the interleaving benefit. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145(7), 918–933.