When Easy Becomes Boring and Difficult Becomes Frustrating: Disentangling the Effects of Item Difficulty Level and Person Proficiency on Learning and Motivation.

Mariola Moeyaert, University at Albany, State University of New York
Kelly Wauters
Piet Desmet
Wim Van den Noortgate

This is the Publisher’s PDF of the following article made available by MDPI © 2016: Moeyaert, M., Wauters, K., Desmet, P., Van Den Noortgate, W. (2016). When easy becomes boring and difficult becomes frustrating: Disentangling the effects of item difficulty level and person proficiency on learning and motivation. Systems, 4(1), 1-18. doi: 10.3390/systems4010014

© 2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons by Attribution (CC-BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).


The research on electronic learning environments has evolved towards creating adaptive learning environments. In this study, the focus is on adaptive curriculum sequencing, in particular, the efficacy of an adaptive curriculum sequencing algorithm based on matching the item difficulty level to the learner’s proficiency level. We therefore explored the effect of the relative difficulty level on learning outcome and motivation. Results indicate that, for learning environments consisting of questions focusing on just one dimension and with knowledge of correct response, it does not matter whether we present easy, moderate or difficult items or whether we present the items with a random mix of difficulty levels, regarding both learning and motivation.