So.. we know that gamification and game based learning are engaging and effective learning experiences. Now, we are going to delve into what makes this technique effective enough to always keep us wanting more. People often spend hours playing video games, which use the same mechanisms to motivate, engage and encourage more play time. This post will explain how the neuroscience, cognitive science and psychological principles underlying learning, are highly complementary to techniques in gamification and game based learning.
Emotional engagement in training is not just a gimmick to draw in attention around gamification and technology driven learning solutions. Research shows that emotional arousal amplifies one’s attention span. For example, in a video game, the narrative draws people in, enabling players to maintain their attention to small, specific things within the game for hours past a typical attention span. Good use of gamification will create an emotional narrative that is centered around the learner, and demonstrates how the learning objectives will aid the learner. Moreover, within the brain, the same area – the prefrontal cortex handles both emotional processing, higher cognitive decision-making and is engaged during recall. Research has shown that our working memory is actually impaired by stress, anxiety, fear and other negative emotions.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It enables us to recognize rewards, pleasurable actions and take steps to to replicate or move toward them. We already know that screen-time stimulates the release of dopamine. Moreover, studies have shown that virtual achievements and social recognition over a technological medium result in a dopamine spike. This prompts player to keep playing to unlock more achievements and recognition. Provided the gamified simulation is meaningful in it’s design and curriculum, learners will spend more time, in a positive frame of mind unlocking learning objectives and absorbing more information. Research also shows that remembering past successes stimulates a release of serotonin. This hormone is an indicator of our satiety and satisfaction. The design of gamified apps allows the learner to easily access their badges and past achievement goals that they have been successful in. This may aid in improving the overall mood of the learner during learning.
There is another area in the brain that is highly associated with learning, retention and is involved with spatial navigation. This is the hippocampus. During learning, a strong hippocampal activation makes the learned content easier to recall. Clinical studies have demonstrated that game play and game based simulations stimulate a strong hippocampal activation. Game based learning that involves navigating a virtual environment and interactive play that will stimulate these spatial areas of the brain, leading to greater activation in the hippocampus and thus, improved recall.
Learning has evolved to be an extremely social task. In fact, our entire brains have evolved for cooperation and social functioning. UCLA professor and author of “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect” has suggested a rearrangement of the infamous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. He places social needs at the bottom of the pyramid, even more crucial than food and water. The merits of that are yet to be decided but the idea is that social functioning is a focal point in how humans progress. Gamification enables social learning, where learners can engage each other, highlight differing points of view and develop social empathy for others’ viewpoints. It helps develop critical thinking skills and a more robust understanding of the topic at hand.
A recent study showed that adding more social behaviors to a robot instructor will increase learners’ willingness to connect with and learn from it. It’s important to integrate social feedback and relevance during learning to ensure long term retention. With advances in Artificial Intelligence, we can provide dynamic and adaptive feedback from virtual mentors and have them engage the learner, encouraging discussion with peers and other forms of social learning.
Ultimately, the most important features in game based solutions are personalization and enabling social reach during learning. Advancements in technology and large data have allowed for a type of individual customization that has never been seen before. This individualization greatly improves memory and recall. Neurofocus investigated how consumer response to a variety of websites. The results showed that memory scores were higher when the stimuli was meaningful at a personal level and provide opportunities to learn more. When asked to recall information from various sites, it was found that a social networking newsfeed resulted in better memory processing and higher levels of emotional engagement due to the personal significance of the content. On-screen activity that has a personal and social element is more immersive, emotionally engaging and cognitively stimulating resulted in better retention and recall.
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