Using gamification principles to initiate and sustain second language learning directed motivational currents

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This mixed methods study tests whether L2 motivation among university-level students could be raised by implementing an eight-week educational intervention based on the directed motivational current (DMC) theory and the concept of gamification, thus forming a gamified directed motivational current (GDMC) framework.

Although DMC theory was first introduced in 2013 as a promising construct for understanding second language (L2) motivation (Muir and Dörnyei, 2013), prior to this research there was no practical framework developed that is grounded in the context of L2 classrooms. Gamification has an apparent and immediate effect on students’ behaviour and engagement in real-world classrooms, yet lacks an underpinning theoretical base from motivation theory. Accordingly, I argue that game design principles from the field of gamification may serve as an appropriate internal structure to initiate DMCs in a language classroom.

This study examined the use of points and leaderboards to form a practical framework for implementing DMC theory and thus creating directed motivational currents in an L2 classroom. My goal was to observe and analyse the process of implementing the GDMC intervention to identify the temporal and dynamic effects of the intervention on students’ motivation and the GDMC characteristics (i.e., components, conditions, and triggers).

The GDMC intervention was presented to the participants (n = 100) as a classroom contest consisting of a series of gamified weekly activities. Participants were divided into three groups. The GDMC intervention was implemented with the first group. The second group was exposed to the weekly activities but not the gamification elements. The third was the control group, with which no treatment was applied. To examine the temporal aspect of motivation, students completed three rounds of motivation assessment questionnaires at the beginning, middle, and end of the intervention. Also, after each weekly activity, each student marked his motivation level on a simple motivation-tracking graph. To examine the dynamic aspect of motivation, i.e., motivation as it manifested in classroom interactions, I conducted 11 focus group interviews with volunteer participants from the two experimental groups. Collected data were analysed using SPSS, Excel, and NVivo software respectively.

The quantitative results show that the GDMC was able to initiate and sustain a consistently rising group motivational current in treatment level 1. The qualitative results further indicated that the characteristics of the motivational current created by the GDMC considerably differed from those of DMC. Namely, the motivational elements in the GDMC were perceived to have different motivational values and roles. The focus group data suggest that elements such as predefined gamified proximal goals, competition, and enjoyment are essential for creating a playful learning experience and thus operationalising DMC theory in an L2 classroom setting.

The study lends substantial support to the possibility of operationalising DMC theory in L2 classroom settings through game design elements (i.e., the GDMC).
Date of Award1 Jan 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorUrsula Wingate (Supervisor) & Mary Webb (Supervisor)

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