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What’s the Bartle Test and how does it apply to education? (Hint: think computer gaming and differentiation)

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What’s the Bartle Test and how does it apply to education? 

(Hint: think computer gaming and differentiation)

The Bartle Test is used by the creators of online games to categorize players based in preferences. Based on a 1996 paper by Richard Bartle and created in 1999 by Erwin Andreasen and Brandon Downey, the test produces a score known as the "Bartle Quotient" that assigns relative weights on gamer preferences in four categories:

  • Achievers’ goals are to beat the game and any and all opponents with whom they are competing. 
  • Explorers prefer the challenge of discovering, creating, and learning and prefer to play at their own pace. 
  • Socializers enjoy the communities that are formed in some games, joining in-game groups and out-of-game groups which relate to the game. Adding to friend-lists and collaborating toward completion of a task appeal to Socializers.
  • Killers seek to destroy and create mayhem and often assume (both positive and negative) leadership roles within games.

Game makers use these categories in two primary ways: They design and market specific games to appeal to specific categories or they strive to appeal to all categories within a single game.

These gamer categories are analogous to learning styles. Consider one example: VARK.

  • Visual learners prefer use of images, maps, and graphic organizers to access and make meaning.
  • Auditory learners prefer listening and speaking and benefit from repetition and mnemonics.
  • Read and write learners prefer learning through words, take copious notes and read voluminously; they translate concepts into words and summarize key concepts from texts
  • Kinesthetic learners prefer tactile interactions and movement, acting out concepts and constructing models.

I reject the notion that learning styles and preferences have no place in designing differentiated teaching and learning experiences. I equally reject the notion that a singular learning style should and can be employed on behalf of supporting a student. I enthusiastically embrace the notion that learning styles, modalities, and preferences have a role to play within whole group lessons and in promoting agency and offering choice within individualized and personalized tasks.

Game designers strive to incorporate elements that appeal to Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers within their products. Learning experience designers (aka teachers) should strive to incorporate elements of VARK within whole group and small group lessons.

In order to design learning experiences that incorporate elements of VARK or any other characteristic of a student, we must know students. Knowing students takes time and a commitment to establish and nurture relationships.

We recommend that educators embrace the art of “interviews” with students, and use the information that we glean to differentiate learning experiences. “Interviews” may take the form of:

  • Written interest surveys at the beginning of the year.
  • Paragraphs that students regularly write about their lives (or weekends, or families).
  • Writing conferences designed to learn about the student as a writer, and that can also allow us to learn about the student as a person.
  • Reading conferences designed to learn about the student as a reader, and that can also allow us to learn about the student as a person.
  • Classroom meetings during which pro-social and pro-functional behaviors are reviewed, practiced, and modeled.

A precious and priceless knowledge of social and learning preferences can help educators better create and improve learning experiences for all students and for specific students, when:

  • Facilitating whole group and small group instruction.
  • Creating and assigning tasks.
  • Collecting and assigning texts.
  • Shaping the options from which students can choose.
  • Informing the ways in which prior knowledge is activated.

Ensuring high levels of learning for all students is more important than ensuring student success on an online games. Designing engaging and customized experiences within schools is more important than designing engaging and customized games.


It won’t be easy, but differentiation based knowledge of student preferences gained through robust and nurtured relationships with students is worth the work – and more critical than ever.

© 2016. Chris Weber Education. Design by Cleverbirds.