The psychology of gamification in education: why rewards matter for learner engagement.

Without being a hardcore gamer, it is difficult sometimes to get a scale of the video game industry. We all know it is there, and that clearly millions of people love gaming, but video games just don’t seem to get everyone excited in the same way that, say, movies do. So is gaming or gamification as big as we think?
The reality is that the video game (gamification) industry is twice the size of the movie industry and three times the size of the music industry, going on 2013 figures. According to PwC, video games in 2014 were worth a staggering $70.3 billion worldwide, and their growth over the next decade is set to rise exponentially as they become even more immersive, expansive and, most importantly, rewarding with Gamification.

Its Gamification everywhere
Many people who wouldn’t really consider themselves into gamification or see themselves as gamers, or even partial to games, can happily sit there for hours playing Candy Crush, often spending worrying amounts of money on . When asked why they do it, the response is almost unanimous: “It’s addictive!”.

The rewards are what make games addictive keeps everyone hooked on gamification. Not just random rewards, but carefully planned, incremental rewards that are designed specifically to push all the right buttons (pun intended) and stimulate us to go back, again and again and again, frequently to the detriment of our bank accounts. Game simulation, used in scenarios such as gamification in education, introduces strategic rewards to the education and gamification platform.
We have known about the value of implementing gamification in education and the use of game dynamics in training some time, and we are all familiar with incentive schemes in the workplace. It is exactly the same principle: reward someone for doing something well and this will motivate them to continue to do well in the future. Games and gamification in education do just this in an attempt to maintain learner focus, stimulate them to return and give them satisfaction for an achievement reached or milestone passed.

Games & Gamification in eLearning
The practical applications of Games and Gamification are profound, and have been part of the elearning landscape for some time now. However the psychology behind gamification is even more intriguing, and just as important for course authors to and instructors to understand as the subject matter they are trying to convey. Once the people designing the courses can grasp why it is that including elements of gamification can dramatically improve learner knowledge retention, performance and efficiency, the quicker they will see the results reflected not just in achievement, but in the their organization’s bottom line. This fact has been proven again and again through game studies.

Many people are scared of change, and moving away from the traditional view of learning as classroom-based and teacher-led towards implementing gamification in education can be huge.

Games, Gamification and motivation
So what exactly is going on in our bodies when we feel motivated to do something? The simple answer to this is the dopamine released when we are rewarded. Through gamification in education the learning process is converted from passive to active, from simply receiving drip-fed information, to being responsible for when and how the information is delivered to you. Once we make this transition and realise that we and we alone can achieve the rewards on offer, we as learners begin to actually want to learn more, relying less on the stick (the threat of failure or fear of disappointment) and more in the carrot (the promise of reward for continued progress in gamification).

Dopamine is what our body releases when we receive a reward for some pattern of behavior. Our bodies are so good at sensing this that we can learn to anticipate rewards with a release of dopamine – just think how excited you get when you have ordered a pizza and the doorbell rings, even if it isn’t the pizza delivery guy. The product of this release of dopamine, among several others, is motivation.

Harnessing that rewarding feeling with Gamification
By learning to harness this natural disposition to reward stimulus, course creators can design their material around it and make gamification in education a priority. The more goals you achieve, the more dopamine is released. The more dopamine is released, the higher the motivation to progress and attain yet more rewards. Ask any Learning and Development department what was the hardest variable to control, and I would bet a substantial sum of money on it being learner motivation.

Learner collaboration with Gamification
Another thing that goes hand in hand with gamification in education and elearning is collaboration; working together towards a common goal. It may seem counter-intuitive, seeing as competition is at the very core of gaming, but a shared goal and the right stimuli can seriously boost engagement. Cooperation and collaboration, coupled with gamification, do wonders for transforming dull or otherwise lifeless content into something that is not only rewarding, but will remain in the learner’s brain because the process was fun and engaging.

Tactically decrease the boredom with Gamification
Most learning processes are boring. Read this, learn it, and take a test on it. The actual learning part is purely passive. Once there is an interactive gamification element thrown into the mix, one that seeks to reward the learner – no matter how small the reward –  then the learning process becomes active and the material more stimulating.

However the reward system cannot simply be random, and must also be complemented with a feedback mechanism. Remember this is a learning process, not just an opportunity to gorge ourselves on dopamine. Simple games like Candy Crush are as successful as they are because the game dynamics offer incentives that are precisely the right amount, at precisely the right time. For the developers the desired outcome is that the player makes progress, spurred on by tactical rewards placed throughout the game, and spends their hard earned cash on strategically located in-app purchases.

Progress: the ultimate elearning goal
For gamification in education, and especially gamification in corporate training, the ultimate goal is the same: progress. The player feels like they want to progress because the game provides them with the right amount of stimulus and encouragement at just the right time. Through the process of achieving satisfying goals, being rewarded for anything from simply taking part to completing a course, and receiving the necessary feedback on performance and knowledge, the learner provides him or herself with the dopamine-induced motivation they need to feel like they want to carry on, and for the knowledge to be retained.

Despite seemingly reducing humans to dopamine junkies only motivated by where their next reward is coming from, gamification in education and has been proven to improve engagement and the retention of knowledge. Paradiso Solutions understands the impact gamification can have on elearning, and Paradiso LMS – Paradiso Solutions’ advanced learning management system – incorporates gamification and blended learning to heighten the learning experience for its users. Paradiso Solutions understands the need for flexibility and so works closely with the client to identify the features they need, and creates a tailor-made elearning solution based on these requirements. Don’t hesitate – gamification has the potential to transform how your learners approach the learning process, and is set to become a staple in the industry, both in and out of the classroom.

Want to learn more about how Paradiso Solutions can help you to implement gamification in your organization, then click on the link below and one of our advisors will be happy to help.

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