Designing and using gamification elements to improve students’ user experience in a video-based mobile language learning app
Abstract: With the rise of the smartphone industry, the domain of mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) has increasingly grown. A large number of language learning applications have been developed aiming to support individuals’ second language acquisition on various levels, e.g., by teaching vocabulary and grammar to improve reading and listening comprehension. The viability of these applications has been examined in literature and shows overall positive but mixed results. On one side, their success is partly attributed to gamified design elements. These are reported to improve the user experience (UX) and boost learners' motivation. On the other side, the primary reliance on decontextualized vocabulary and grammar exercises is criticized. In response, one such application, SVT Språkplay developed by the Swedish non-profit Språkkraft, incorporated television programs as a longer form of context. This introduced novel video-based learning functions. The first aim of this thesis was to start filling a gap in research by evaluating the usability and user experience of these functions. This was performed through user tests and interviews with seven second language students who used the app to learn Swedish over a period of at least two weeks. The second aim of the thesis was to improve the usability and user experience of the problematic learning functions through a user-centred design process with the ultimate goal to improve learner support and vocabulary acquisition outcomes. The study participants consisted of doctoral researchers and students recruited from a basic Swedish course at KTH. They represent a demographic that benefits from learning Swedish to improve their job opportunities. The initial evaluation results were analysed through the lens of the MUUX-E theoretical framework  , a framework for evaluating the “user experience and educational features of m-learning environments”. The evaluation showed that the core vocabulary learning aids directly integrated into the video watching experience were perceived as useful. Conversely, the gamified learning functions outside of the video watching experience were found to be scarcely used as intended. The subsequent user-centered design process improved upon the design of problematic learning functions by adhering to the principles of the MUUX-E framework. Concretely, more varied contextualized vocabulary exercises were designed, more options for user customization were included and feedback and progress metrics such as “streaks” were highlighted. An evaluation of the design with the same participants as the initial evaluation suggests that these changes would improve the usability and user experience of the application. Further research should evaluate an implemented end-product based on the proposed designs in a real-life setting. In that case, its pedagogical merit should also be evaluated. In summary, this thesis found that mobile video-based MALL apps such as Språkplay can provide usable and enjoyable language learning functions.
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