Profiling Users in Educational Games

Profiling Users in Educational Games

Patrick Felicia (University College of Cork, Ireland) and Ian Pitt (University College of Cork, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-360-9.ch009


For a long time, users’ emotions and behaviours have been considered to obstruct rather than to help the cognitive process. Educational systems have based their learning strategies almost solely at a cognitive level and the internal state of the learner has often been ignored. Even if it is now recognized that learners’ personalities and learning styles influence greatly their cognitive process (e.g. Multiple intelligences), very few systems have managed to profile users and adapt the educational content accordingly. Part of the reason for this is the difficulty to measure learning styles reliably and to establish a valid model that accounts for most of the major factors contributing to learning. Furthermore, since the introduction of formal education, it can be argued that learning has lost its playful and emotional aspect, whereby information was transmitted through story telling and play. On the other hand, video games have become a very popular medium among our digital natives. They provide a rich sensory and emotional environment in which they can experience a state of flow and are willing to stay for extended period of time. Despite of initial preconceptions on the negative effect of video games on young adults, it is now admitted that video games implicitly include many instructional design strategies (collaboration, exploration, Socratic dialogues, zone of proximal development, etc.) that could be harnessed to make formal education an experience that is more interactive and rewarding. One of the key features of video games is the ability to provide a content that matches players’ emotional needs (e.g. recognition, social bounding, self-esteem, etc.) and that provides a wide range of interaction. The authors believe that this potential can be harnessed to create an educational content that matches users’ learning styles and motivations. They propose the PLEASE model (Personality Learning styles, Emotions, Autonomy, Systematic Approach and Evaluation). This model addresses some of educational games design issues (e.g. choice of instructional strategy, type of feedback required, etc.); it categorizes and profiles users’ learning styles in the light of educational and personality theories and defines a set of practical strategies for educational games designers in order to match students’ learning styles and provide a user-centred content that is both motivating and educational. The authors explain how the Big-5 can be a more reliable alternative to measure learning styles, how emotions and personalities can be accounted in the cognitive process (e.g. information retrieval, memory retention, etc.) and also describe experiments they carried out in Cork to assess the effect of user-centred approaches in educational game design. Results are analysed and contrasted with current practices to show that unless personalities are accounted for in educational games, the educational outcomes could be different or even opposite to the one expected.
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The Please Model

History and Rationale

Since the 1970s, a new generation of students have emerged. They use digital devices extensively, and more importantly, they are avid video gamers. Computer games have had a profound impact on the way the vast majority of young people process information. They include many features that are not yet acknowledged or used in school settings but that might facilitate the learning experience. Video games represent real learning environments where learning occurs naturally to overcome challenges posed by the game play. In this context, video games can be compared to a language that supersedes current languages. Using video games, young students can express themselves, communicate ideas, and collaborate with other peers. Using such a medium for teaching can prove effective to both motivate and illustrate effectively concepts and ideas to this young generation of students. While the military and some companies have embraced the use of video gaming technology to train new recruits, the move in the academic sphere has been slower, even if software such as Second-Life is progressively assessed and recognised as a valuable asset for collaborative and exploratory learning.

Video games can be compared to micro-worlds offering a wide range of opportunities for learning and adapting to each individual’s learning style and preferences. Their rich interactive environment makes it possible for individuals to learn in a way that suits their abilities. Collaborating, reflecting, interacting with the content are some of the many possible ways to learn in these environments. However, despite a promising educational potential, video games designers still need to find means to adapt dynamically the content and the structure of the game depending on students’ profiles. User profiling is a growing research field that aims to categorise the players and find ways to predict their actions, preferences or needs.

Developing educational games that adapt dynamically to users’ cognitive and emotional state represents an interesting challenge for developers and educators. The authors will describe their approach to designing dynamic educational games through the PLEASE model (Personality Learning styles Emotions Autonomy Systematic approach and Evaluation). This model, inspired by observations of students’ behaviours, accounts for users’ differences at cognitive and emotional levels and offers a solution based on game design techniques to maximize learning strategies and outcomes. The following sections will explain the rationale for this model, its theoretical foundation and experiments carried-out to assess its validity.



Since March 2005 the authors have been involved in a project to evaluate the educational benefits of video games for teaching mathematics and sciences in secondary schools. This project involves teachers and students of two Cork secondary schools and seeks to help students to improve their skills and motivation for scientific topics through rich interactive experiences. Overall, it aims to address the issue of the shortage of science students at college level. By increasing their interest and proficiency in sciences, the hope is that they will embrace a scientific career after their leaving certificate. This project was initiated by a discussion with a school liaison officer in University College of Cork who had identified a need for more interest in scientific careers. This view was confirmed during further interviews with teachers. They expressed their concerns about students’ lack of enthusiasm for scientific topics and the need to introduce tools and methodologies that could improve both their motivation and academic results. Subsequent meetings were conducted to identify areas of the curriculum that might benefit from a Game Based Learning (GBL) approach and several issues with existing tools were identified:

  • Available software packages were often not based on the curriculum and failed to support teachers’ classes.

  • Training material often failed to engage and motivate students.

  • Time available to use these tools was often limited making some of the tools unusable.

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