What Makes Learning Fun? Exploring the Influence of Choice and Difficulty on Mind Wandering and Engagement during Learning

  • Caitlin Mills
  • Sidney D’Mello
  • Blair Lehman
  • Nigel Bosch
  • Amber Strain
  • Art Graesser
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 7926)


Maintaining learner engagement is critical for all types of learning technologies. This study investigated how choice over a learning topic and the difficulty of the materials influenced mind wandering, engagement, and learning during a computerized learning task. 59 participants were randomly assigned to a text difficulty and choice condition (i.e., self-selected or experimenter-selected topic) and measures of mind wandering and engagement were collected during learning. Participants who studied the difficult version of the texts reported significantly higher rates of mind wandering (d = .41) and lower arousal both during (d = .52) and after the learning session (d = .48). Mind wandering and arousal were not affected by choice. However, participants who were assigned to study the topic they selected reported significantly more positive valence during (d = .57) but not after learning. These participants also scored substantially higher on a subsequent knowledge test (d = 1.27). These results suggest that choice and text difficulty differentially impact mind wandering, engagement, and learning and provide important considerations for the design of ITSs and serious games with a reading component.


engagement mind wandering reading serious games affect 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caitlin Mills
    • 1
  • Sidney D’Mello
    • 1
    • 2
  • Blair Lehman
    • 3
  • Nigel Bosch
    • 2
  • Amber Strain
    • 3
  • Art Graesser
    • 3
  1. 1.Departments of PsychologyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.Computer ScienceUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychology and Institute for Intelligent SystemsUniversity of MemphisMemphisUSA

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