High engagement is observed when students focus on mastering a task according to self-set standards or a self-imposed desire for improvement.
Engagement (enjoyment and interest) is represented by heightened concentration and effort in skill-building activities along with spontaneous enjoyment from intrinsic interest and continued motivation.
Shernoff and Chikszentmihalyi propose that an optimal learning environment:
1. Presents challenging and relevant activities that allow students to feel confident and in control
2. Promotes both concentration and enjoyment
3. Is intrinsically satisfying in the short term while building a foundation of skills and interests
4. Involves both intellect and feeling
5. Requires effort and yet feels like play
Their research shows that these can be present when students play video games. Students using a video game approach made considerably greater learning gains than those in a traditional classroom, and were linked to a higher level of engagement.
Shernoff goes on to provide an example: a full semester college course, Dynamic Systems and Control, was created around a video game in which students race a virtual car around a track for all of their lab exercises and homework. Not only did those students report a higher level of interest, engagement, and flow, but “The video game approach maintained the high level of rigor inherent to the challenging engineering course while adding the perception of feeling active, creative, and in control characteristic of flow activities. The students who interacted with the video game also demonstrated greater depth of knowledge and better performance in the course.”
SRI, in research on GlassLab STEM games for K12, found that, for the average students, learning achievement increases by 12 percent when game based learning augments traditional instruction, and if the “game” is a simulation, achievement increases by 25 percent.