Abstract Details

A Framework For The Effective Design Of Auditory Notifications In Game-Based Learning Environments

Notifications have a ubiquitous presence within modern HCI environments. Users are frequently subjected to notifications across multiple-device platforms that employ the use of numerous modalities (visual, auditory, and tactile). Notifications can serve as an effective method for delivering contextually-important information, if implemented with consideration to the end-user present cognitive state and concurrent tasks (Garzonis et al., 2009). Within the context of game-based learning environments (GBLEs), notifications allow for the instantaneous delivery of information, such as letting players know of the availability of in-game team members or personal contacts, game-changing events; and information relevant to third-party applications.

To this end, the authors question if auditory notifications within complex GBLEs are suitably designed and executed. Based on literature centred on perceptual interactions between sensory modalities, and given that GBLEs typically embrace multimodal conditions, the likelihood of negative consequences emanating from inappropriately-designed auditory notifications is plausible. Therefore, the authors propose a design framework that emphasises cross-modal interactions and interrelated cognitive processes during the presentation of auditory events. Before such a framework can be developed, the most fundamental question must first be answered – what constitutes an effective auditory notification? Notifications are designed to elicit user attention and to convey contextual information. Understanding the cognitive factors involved during the process of evoking a user’s attention is central in the design of an auditory notification. These factors span several cognitive systems, such as working memory capacity; higher-level semantic processing; and user-expectations and pattern recognition as expressed by schema theory (Baddeley, 2015; Bey & McAdams, 2002).

Recent research suggests that some notifications, designed to elicit a strong attentional response, have the potential to negatively disrupt a user’s engagement with their primary activity or task (Kushlev et al., 2016). The chief side-effect of such notifications is the inhibition of information retention, which may subsequently lead to user-frustration attributable to the obstruction of their sense of ‘flow’ (Harmat et al., 2015). Therefore, in the context of pedagogy and GBLEs, consideration must be given to their design. While there may be a basis to simply exclude notifications from GBLEs to limit potential interruptions to a user’s learning engagement, there are benefits to be inferred from their inclusion, both from a pedagogical and a user experience (UX) point-of-view. For example, auditory notifications can be of benefit when integrated with social interaction features during game-based activities, which enhances the learning experience of the end-user. Social interactions allow users to gain encouragement from peer communities, or help to stimulate healthy competition during tasks (Burguillo, 2010). Notifications offer a convenient mechanism to convey relevant information related to these social features.

Arbitrarily-designed auditory notifications may unintentionally and excessively disrupt the end-user, which the authors wish to address through their proposed framework. To aid in the development of the framework the following research roadmap is proposed:

  • A meta-analysis of auditory perceptual research related to user-distraction.
  • Identification of commonly re-occurring disruptive auditory dimensions.
  • Grading the disruptive severity of identified auditory dimensions requires:
    • A series of user-studies evaluating disruptive severity of dimensions in isolation during serial recall based tasks (pitch, harmonicity, inharmonicity, reverberation etc.).
    • A series of user-studies evaluating the disruptive severity of complex sound objects consisting of multiple varying auditory dimensions.
  • Extrapolation of relevant auditory notification design guidelines from the results of conducted research.
  • The evaluation the effectiveness of auditory notifications designed following proposed guidelines within a GBLE based user-study, pertaining to the delivery of relevant information whilst avoiding excessive distraction.


  • Baddeley, A. D. (2015). “Working Memory” in A. Baddeley, Michael W. Eysenck & Mickael C. Anderson (Eds.), Memory, Ch. 3, pp. 67-98.
  • Bey, C. and McAdams, S. (2002). “Schema-Based Processing in Auditory Scene Analysis.” in Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, Vol. 64(5). pp. 844-854.
  • Burguillo, J.C., 2010. Using game theory and competition-based learning to stimulate student motivation and performance. Computers & Education, 55(2), pp.566-575.
  • Garzonis, S., Jones, S., Jay, T. and O’Neill, E., 2009, April. Auditory icon and earcon mobile service notifications: intuitiveness, learnability, memorability and preference. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems pp. 1513-1522.
  • Harmat, L., de Manzano, Ö., Theorell, T., Högman, L., Fischer, H. and Ullén, F., 2015. Physiological correlates of the flow experience during computer game playing. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 97(1), pp.1-7.
  • Kushlev, K., Proulx, J. and Dunn, E.W., 2016, May. Silence your phones: Smartphone notifications increase inattention and hyperactivity symptoms. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems pp. 1011-1020.

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