A Digital Learning Game for Mathematics that Leads to Better Learning Outcomes for Female Students: Further Evidence


  • Bruce McLaren Carnegie Mellon University




game-based learning, mathematics, gender effects, self-explanation


Stereotypes about men being better than women at mathematics appear to influence female students’ interest and performance in mathematics. Given the potential motivational benefits of digital learning games, it is possible that games could help to reduce math anxiety, increase self-efficacy, and lead to better learning outcomes for female students. We are exploring this possibility in our work with Decimal Point, a digital learning game that scaffolds practice with decimal operations for 5th and 6th grade students. In several studies with various versions of the game, involving over 800 students across multiple years, we have consistently uncovered a learning advantage for female students with the game. In our most recent investigation of this gender effect, we decided to experiment with a central feature of the game: its use of prompted self-explanation to support student learning. Prior research has suggested that female students might benefit more from self-explanation than male students. In the new study, involving 214 middle school students, we compared three versions of self-explanation in the game – menu-based, scaffolded, and focused – each presenting students with a different type of prompted self-explanation after they solved problems in the game. We found that the focused approach led to more learning across all students than the menu-based approach, a result reported in an earlier paper. In the additional results reported in this paper, we again uncovered the gender effect – female students learned more from the game than male students, regardless of the version of self-explanation – and also found a trend in which female students made fewer self-explanation errors, suggesting they may have been more deliberate and thoughtful in their self-explanations. This self-explanation finding is a possible key to further investigation into how and why we see the gender effect in Decimal Point.