Attention drives learning

Our simulations are designed to capture and maintain student attention

Capturing and maintaining student attention is an essential task of teaching.

It is only when students pay attention to what they learn that they notice key ideas.[1] However, student attention is limited and requires effort to be activated and maintained. Educational researchers note that to harness attention, instructors must cultivate it deliberately.[2]

Decades of research about creativity and problem solving have shown that we can stretch ourselves and operate beyond our comfort zone when we pay attention and focus. This kind of sustained attention has been called “flow,” and it is the ultimate prize in learning, as creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reminds us:

“[The] quality of concentrated attention is what creative individuals mention most often as having set them apart… from their peers. Without this quality, they could not have sustained the hard work.”

Attention and active engagement is the first principle of an ARC simulation.

To harness and maintain attention, our simulations leverage interactive fiction to deliver a hyper-immersive world, making learning compelling and personal.[3] The story reveals the key questions learners must grapple with. Through the story, learners have the autonomy and agency to make decisions and choose among a number of options to advance and change their story in the game. As they progress through branching narratives learner choices lead them to different scenarios and, ultimately, to different endings. By immersing themselves in their roles and committing to their decisions, learners live through a narrative arc in which they are deeply invested.


We push the levers of engagement across the ARC experience.

Learners want to know what happens next because they live through compelling scenarios that carefully weave the learner into the narrative, making them a central part of the fictional world.

The world-building in ARCs is nuanced and multi-dimensional; learners are challenged to move out of their comfort zone and actively explore to gain the critical knowledge that informs their decision-making. By making consequential choices, learners progress as they rack up a series of wins and losses.

Throughout the ARC, we embed messages from experts, characters who guide learners, and interactive videos that allow learners to speak to characters.

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We use a number of game elements in ARCs to prompt and maintain player engagement and motivation. Learners build a relationship and connection with non-player characters, and in team-based ARCs, learners also connect with their teammates. Learners attain a sense of competence as they achieve mastery, beginning with small wins and progressing to bigger and more consequential decisions. Initial scenarios and choices are fairly straightforward, and learners get a lot of support through those initial choices. But as the game progresses, we increase the stakes so that learners reap the rewards of their initial investment. Learners also have a sense of agency as they make choices throughout the ARC, allowing them to charter their own story.[4]

Additional game elements that increase engagement include badges, grades, and leaderboards.[5] Badges are tokens of achievements that learners get as they progress through the ARC; these mark an end to a scenario or a culminating choice and let learners know how they are doing compared to other learners.

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All of these game elements serve a dual purpose: to immerse the player in the game so that learning is deeply engaging[6] and to focus the learners’ attention on important concepts, harnessing the power of games as drivers of learning.


Want to learn more?

Use BlueSky Ventures with your class, a free 90-minutes business simulation, and see how we capture and maintain student attention.

Play it yourself first! And then use our Discussion Guide to develop a rich debrief tailored to your class.


  1. [1]

    Lang, J. (2020). Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It. Basic Books.

  2. [2]

    Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds online. Harvard University Press.

  3. [3]

    For more on how attention enhances learning see: Dehaene, S. (2020). How we learn: Why brains learn better than any machine... for now. Penguin.

  4. [4]

    Gagné, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self‐determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational behavior, 26(4), 331-362.

  5. [5]

    Werbach, K., Hunter D. (2020); For the Win, Revised and Updated Edition: The Power of Gamification and Game Thinking in Business, Education, Government, and Social Impact. Wharton School Press.

  6. [6]

    Werbach, K., Hunter D. (2020); For the Win, Revised and Updated Edition: The Power of Gamification and Game Thinking in Business, Education, Government, and Social Impact. Wharton School Press.