Concept Model for designing engaging and motivating games for learning - The Smiley-model

Charlotte Larke Weitze and Rikke Orngreen


The desire to use learning games in education is increasing, but the development of games for learning is still a growing field. Research shows that it remains difficult to develop learning games that are both instructive and engaging, although it is precisely the presence of these two elements that is believed to be an advantage when using learning games in education. In this paper the Smiley-model is presented (figure 1). The model describes which parameters and elements are important when designing a learning game. The present research is a result of a case-based action research study for designing a music learning game that teaches children to play piano using sheet music, and at the same time is fun and engaging. Although the model was originally developed for and through music, it has a more generic nature, and may be relevant for other fields as well. The Smiley-model is a condensed version of a design manual developed in a Master's thesis (Weitze, 2011), created on the basis of theoretical and empirical analysis, and is currently being applied to other research projects. The research concerning design for learning was carried out with an analysis of specific and general learning theory. Furthermore, theories about children, culture and media, as well as empirical analysis of the writers' own music-teaching practice were investigated. Motivation and engagement in music learning games was investigated through: 1) an analysis of various theoretical and empirical approaches to implementing learning in a learning game, 2) study of motivational theories, 3) analysis of theory of play and existing experiences on dissemination of learning in games in fun ways 4) analysis of motivating and engaging game elements, and 5) analysis of similar music learning games. During an iterative design process, the design manual was used for development of various prototypes of the learning game concept. This happened through action research in collaboration with the users, in participatory design workshops, combined with observation, qualitative interviews, and peer reviews. Through empirical studies and design development, it was possible to add new aspects to the design manual, resulting in the Smiley-model. The Smiley-model is now proving useful as a combination of a heuristic and an inspirational tool (more flexible and contextual than static), when designing engaging learning games, and gamified learning environments.