PhD Defense

Fredrik Breien

September 29, 2023

A Co-Design Framework for Mixed Reality Narrative Game-Based Learning


Fredrik Breien (private photo)

Increased focus on out of school learning over the last decades has led to extended use of science centres as learning arenas for pupils in primary and secondary education. A learning trail is a form of embedded learning environment in which the learners themselves, physical exhibits, anddigital companions are elements that promote learning content and goals. When used in science centres, learning trails can combine different sets of exhibits and emphasize various aspects of their content to support learning goals insidea broad range of curricular plans and programs. Being comprised of physical exhibits and digital companions, science centre learning trails are mixed reality systems in which learner interaction occurs in both the physical and virtual domains. Research has shown that narratives and game mechanics areamong the most effective components for science centre learning trails to achieve increased focus on the learning content, and to induce flow and engagement in learners. With an aim to contribute to improving science centre learning, the main objective of this research is to develop a co-design framework for mixed reality narrative game-based learning trails that enforce positive effects onengagement, motivation, and learning.

Narratives have been used in learning and instruction since prehistoric times, and games for learning have been theorized and applied in human culture for centuries, increasingly so with the advent of the computer, and opportunities provided by digital games. While both narratives and games are shown to have the ability to positively affect learning, research on the effects from narrative game-based learning has shown mixed and contradictory results.The lack of a common model to categorize narrative games has led to a knowledge gap regarding how and under which conditions narrative games have effects on learning. Whereas most studies of narrative game-based learning neglect mentioning a narratological model at all, the ones that do mainly refer to models adapted from different media that lack the capabilities to properly categorize the event flow of many digital games. An exception is the ludo narrative variable model (LNVM), a narratological model that can properly categorize all games as narratives.   Building on the LNVM, this research fills this gap with the development of the extended LNVM (eLNVM), a common model to categorize and isolate narratives in digital game-based learning.

Narrative game-based learning trails comprise interactive exhibits and digital companionsand promote learning goals inside curricular programs. Therefore, they require participation from educator and developer stakeholders to be properly designed and brought to learners. Research has shown that there is a lack of models, methods, or frameworks that empower educators and developers to co-design game-based learning, something which results in either the learning content being lost in the engaging mechanics of the game, or the fun of the games becoming inferior to the learning goals. Furthermore, to be applicable in science centres, such a co-design framework must also distinguish between physical and digital elements in mixed reality environments.

Applying an information system research framework as a design science methodology, the eLuna co-design framework for mixed reality narrative game-based learning trails that enforce positive effects on engagement, motivation, and learning was developed. A systematic literature review identified 15 studies that self-reported effectsof digital game-based learning systems on engagement, motivation, and learning.These were categorized on the eLNVM and sorted by their self-reported effects to identify what characterizes narrative digital game-based learning systems that positively affect engagement, motivation, and learning. Using an iterative design-based research process these characteristics associated with positive effects were then applied in a co-design framework comprising a method and a visual language, which was later extended with the capabilities to distinguish between physical and virtual elements in mixed reality learning trails.Throughout the process the framework was tested in co-design workshops with stakeholders and evaluated through mixed methods, including focus groups, semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, thematic analysis, and heuristic usability inspection.

The research presented in this PhD dissertation contributes the eLuna co-design framework for narrative game-based learning, which empowers educators and developers in the creation of both narrative digital game-based learning and mixed reality narrative game-based learning trails that optimize the potential to induce positive effects on engagement, motivation, and learning.


Fredrik Breien (born 1974), originally from Hønefoss, has a Masters degree (2004) in Information Science, University of Bergen. Since Breien has worked with games & learning for industry, culture, schools, science centres, and museums. The PhD research was completed in collaboration with Bergen Vitensenter VilVite, through the Research Council of Norway's Business PhD programme. Currently Breien splits his time between Levato AS and the Centre for the Science of Learning & Technology (SLATE), University of Bergen.

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