Overcoming Motivational Barriers to Understanding and Accepting Evolution Through Gameful Learning

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Publication Date


Publication Title

Evolution Education Re-considered






The vast majority of the scientific community agrees upon the importance and validity of evolutionary theory while many in the American (US) public struggle to understand or accept it. For those individuals who perceive evolution to contradict their worldview, the effortful accommodation of new information into their existing worldview, conceptual change, is necessary. Affective factors, including motivation, are considered to be requisite for conceptual change to occur, so instruction designed to enhance the motivational nature of learning environments would be expected to enhance to the effectiveness of evolution education. The purpose of this mixed methods study was to evaluate the potential for gameful, inquiry-based learning to enhance students’ motivation to learn in the context of plant evolutionary life history. Eight sections of an introductory laboratory course, including 140 undergraduates, were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: control; repeat-testing; leaderboard; and leaderboard with repeat-testing. As compared with the other three conditions, gameful learning that included both the leaderboard and repeat-testing elements significantly enhanced students’ motivation to learn biology in the context of plant evolutionary life history. Participants indicated that the leaderboard increased interest, engagement, and motivation to prepare, while repeat-testing reduced test anxiety and made the material easier to learn. These results support the potential for gameful learning to aid evolution instruction by enhancing the affective nature of learning environments—a necessary component for conceptual change regarding the understanding and acceptance of evolution.


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