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Gamification on the Brain

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How does game-based training affect the way we learn?

As any parent can attest, we live in a gaming age. Today’s young workers were raised on daily doses of video games, role-playing games and bite-sized, reward-based online media. In addition, advances in technology have changed social interactions and attention spans so much that teachers, trainers and supervisors are finding traditional approaches to learning less and less effective.

No wonder more instructors are turning to participant-centered techniques like Gamification to engage audiences and improve outcomes.

What is Gamification?
Quite simply, Gamification is a training approach that adds game elements to your classroom and online learning in order to make it more engaging and entertaining for participants. Instead of being taught through lesson plans and lectures, individuals learn through interactive games, quizzes and exercises. The goal is to create a more enjoyable and rewarding learning environment that boosts engagement, builds skills, increases retention and improves performance outcomes.

Does Gamification really work?
There is plenty of research to show that when used properly, Gamification can be highly effective. In one study, researchers assigned a point system to various daily activities in order to measure the level of engagement students displayed when utilizing gamification in the classroom. The research clearly showed a correlation between the classroom’s game-like atmosphere and increased productivity.

Another study measured the effectiveness of using video games to teach students diagnosed with autism, with the results again showing that instruction including gamification produced improved engagement and outcomes.

The “brain science” behind Gamification
There are biological reasons for such results. It all comes down to how the brain receives and processes new information—and how game scenarios affect those functions. Let’s take a look at just some of the brain science behind Gamification.

  • Chunking content to boost retention
    The human brain uses two “working memory” channels—visual and auditory—to process new data. When both channels are engaged, our memory can handle more new information in the short term. However, when we’re given too much information at once, long-term memory suffers. So one trick to getting the most out of the brain’s processing power is to create training programs that utilize audiovisual stimuli in shortened chunks.

    Most game formats—whether group based or online—offer ideal opportunities to use visual and auditory content together in an organized structure of smaller, “winnable” segments. This creates a fun, rewarding learning environment that builds knowledge in the short-term and boosts longer-term retention.

  • Motivating learning through feedback
    Of course, comprehension and retention are only possible if the brain stays actively engaged throughout the training process. Brain fatigue is a real issue in any classroom environment, and games are uniquely suited to help learners overcome it. Games elements, such as successfully completing challenges or earning rewards, provide the in-the-moment feedback learners need to stay motivated and engaged.

    Similarly, group-based games provide social and intellectual feedback that activates the brain’s neurotransmitters and enhances brain plasticity. As a result, learners are more open to changing their thinking and adapting new ideas. Participants who receive social feedback are also less likely to “fade” or “drift off” during training. Why? It could be biological. Research indicates that social interactions reduce inflammation and oxidative stress on the brain, allowing the mind to stay more active and engaged.

  • Rewarding continued engagement
    Of course, the biggest reason we love games is they’re fun. This, too, is biological. Games—even educational games—activate the brain’s pleasure center through the release of dopamine. Studies on the effects of video games on the brain show dopamine plays a huge role in stimulating the hippocampus, which contributes to the acquisition and storage of new skills and information.

    More important, the pleasure participants get from winning or completing challenges is often transferred to the subject matter and training environment as well. When participants leave with a positive feeling for the training experience, they are more likely to value and retain the information received—and become more open and accepting toward training opportunities in the future.

A win-win situation
Like any participant-centered training technique, Gamification is just one tool in your training toolbox. Whether it’s a good fit for the team your training or the subject matter at hand will be up to you. But there’s no denying Gamification offers huge benefits for learners in regards to engagement, motivation and retention—all of which are essential to improving training outcomes. That’s a win for you, your team and your bottom line.

Check out our Gamification Training Workshops!