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Abstract

Game-like learning systems such as simulation games and digital toys are increasingly being applied to foster higher-level abilities in educational contexts, as they may facilitate an active learning experience. However, the effect of such game-like learning systems is not guaranteed because students may only be interested in the fantasy interfaces and the elaborate scenarios, rather than in the learning tasks. In this vein, the study presented in this paper addresses this issue from the perspective of constructionism. A design framework based on constructionism, which highlights the principles of construction as the goal, low-threshold–high-ceiling and computer simulation is proposed for designing game-like learning systems. An evaluation was conducted to investigate the influence of the framework on the flow experiences and learning strategies of different students. The results of this study show that computer simulation is an integral component to promote exploratory learning activities. The results of this study also indicate that the framework was particularly helpful for those students with low background knowledge in balancing challenge and skill perceptions. For those students with middle and high level background knowledge, it also promoted the learning experience by either reducing the challenge perception or promoting the skill perception. Such findings suggest that the constructionism framework is a particularly important design guideline to engage students of different levels in active learning activities.

Practitioner Notes

What is already known about this topic

  • • 
    Computer games are increasingly being applied to foster higher-level abilities in educational contexts.
  • • 
    Learning with a game is sensitive to individual differences.

What this paper adds

  • • 
    A game design framework based on constructionism is proposed to illustrate how low-threshold–high-ceiling principle and computer simulations may be used to help students of different levels learn with games.

Implications for practice and/or policy

  • • 
    Computer simulation is an integral component to promote exploratory learning activities.
  • • 
    The constructionism framework was mostly helpful for those students with low background knowledge in balancing challenge and skill perceptions.
  • • 
    The low-threshold–high-ceiling principle is a particularly important design guideline to engage students of different levels in active learning activities.