Why gamifying works to increase learner engagement

Contrary to popular belief, learning can be all fun and games too.

In fact, by gamifying learning, motivation, engagement, retention and task completion all have the potential to increase.

And there’s science to back it up.

Gamification involves incorporating “game-like” mechanics into learning, like points, levels, rewards and leader boards.

You might even be familiar with a gamified learning experience, if you use apps like DuoLingo or Memrise!

As learning shifts online and becomes increasingly digital, the many benefits of gamification can counter the lack of structure and self-regulation that many might experience studying outside the classroom.

In other words, gamifying learning can increase learner success.

And to show you how this is possible, let’s take a look at why gamifying works to increase learner engagement.

Why Gamifying Works to Increase Learner Engagement

1. Gamification Creates a Personalized Learning Journey

Why gamifying works to increase learner engagement

Everyone has a different play style when it comes to games.

Some prefer the slow and steady approach, others like to speed-run through the levels.

Some like starting off at the highest difficulty for the challenge, and others like to gradually progress up the skill tree.

Similarly, everyone belongs to a different learning style, and different strengths when it comes to learning.

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How much time you spend on a certain topic, how quickly you can grasp specific concepts, all vary from person to person.

Unfortunately, the traditional school system doesn’t cater to all these varying styles and strengths of learners.

Lessons move along at the same pace and everyone has to sit for the same assessments and classes, regardless of where they are on their personal progress bars.

This can be demotivating both for learners who have outpaced the class and those who have fallen behind and need additional time or resources to catch up.

With gamified learning, on the other hand, everyone experiences a unique gaming experience suited to them.

How much time you spend on a specific lesson or mastering a specific skill is completely up to you, allowing you to progress at a pace that suits you the best.

Because you get to learn at your own pace, you are actively engaged, because your participation drives your progress along.

This is the opposite of being the passive recipient at the end of a one-to-one or online lecture.

2. Gamification Allows You to Get Immediate Feedback

Why gamifying works to increase learner engagementAnother aspect of this personalized learning journey is that gamification allows you to see how well you are doing at all times.

Progress bars, scores, badges, levels, etc. are all indicators of where you are on your learning journey and how much farther you have to go.

On a neuroscientific level, this taps into the brain’s inherent reward system to amp up your motivation.

The best gamified learning platforms ease you into learning with frequent rewards early on – in the form of a level up, a badge, and so on.

This in turn triggers the reward center of the brain, which releases the chemical messenger dopamine.

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Dopamine is also known as the motivation molecule – the brain enjoys the feeling of accomplishment it experiences after successfully completing a task so much that it wants to do it again.

If you’ve played video or mobile games, you’ll know the feeling.

When you get a great score on one level, you don’t just stop – you feel motivated to keep playing!

Typically, the earlier levels are easier, and you are rewarded frequently, which ups the dopamine production in your brain.

As the rewards grow less frequent and the challenges get more difficult, the promise of the reward upon accomplishing your goal keeps you motivated to push forward!

The same is the case with gamification of learning!

The immediacy of the feedback helps you gauge your own performance and is more motivating than having to wait a couple of weeks between sitting a test and receiving the results.

Moreover, once you’re done with a written test and waiting for the results, you might no longer be engaging with the material you learned.

In a gamified environment, you are constantly applying your knowledge to progress – which in turn strengthens your memory and familiarity with this knowledge!

3. Gamification Provides a Multisensory Experience

Why gamifying works to increase learner engagementThe three main learning modalities – visual, auditory and kinesthetic – have different strengths.

While traditional schools typically favor the visual style, a gamified learning environment allows learners of all styles to excel.

Game mechanics not only include visuals and graphics which are easier for visual learners to process and retain, but also incorporate audio and interactivity as part of the experience.

Language apps like DuoLingo, for instance, will occasionally ask you to say a certain word out loud in a different language. They might play you the audio of a specific word so you can choose which one you hear from a list.

Games in themselves are inherently interactive, which can be much friendlier to kinesthetic learners than having to sit still in a classroom.

Combining various sensory experiences as part of the learning process can help play up to the strengths of all learning styles, as well as help develop cross-functional strengths.

4. Gamification of Learning Allows Creative Thinking and Problem Solving

Why gamifying works to increase learner engagementIn schools and even in online tests, assessments are usually conducted in the same way – in a written format.

There is a standard method of answering questions, submitting homework, doing quizzes and reading, etc.

Gamification of learning allows for much more flexibility which in turn can engage and motivate readers to keep going.

According to Dr. Samantha Adams, a lecturer in the Department of Industrial Psychology at Stellenbosch University, gamified learning is the most effective when it encourages application of what is learned.

This means that in order to progress, learners have to clear specific goals and objectives at each level.

Human beings are naturally inclined to feel driven by goals, and mechanics like rewards, scores and competition from leader boards and rankings can keep up healthy dopamine levels.

This in turn motivates you to keep going, and in order to keep going, you have to keep applying what you have learned in different contexts to unlock the next level.

Subsequently, the structure of a gamified learning environment itself promotes learning, problem-solving and creative thinking.

Again, this contrasts with simply getting a poor score on a test some two weeks after you wrote it.

Since a gamified learning platform immediately lets you know when you get something wrong, you have the opportunity to keep trying to figure out the correct answer in real-time.

This is a more valuable learning experience since it requires you utilize and recall information you know, testing and developing your critical and problem-solving skills in real-time.

It also encourages you to learn essential information you need to build up your knowledge base, before you can move on to the next chapter.

As a result, you don’t risk falling behind the way you might when a class moves on to the next chapter when you still haven’t fully grasped the first one.

There are plenty of compelling, science-backed reasons to explain why gamifying works to increase learner engagement.

Gamified courses can boost completion rates up to 45%, because they immerse and engage learners far more than courses and classes which try to feed you information one-sidedly.

Are there any gamified courses or apps that you have tried out?

And if you haven’t, are you interested in giving them a try?

pat wymanPat Wyman is a learning expert, university instructor, best-selling author and the CEO of HowtoLearn.com. She invites you to take the free Learning Styles Quiz on the home page.

Her courses, Total Recall Learning for Students, Total Recall Learning for ProfessionalsTotal Recall Speed Readingand Total Recall Memory have benefited over half a million learners with higher grades, increased productivity and the ability to know how to read faster, learn and remember anything.

She’s worked with people in such corporations as Microsoft, Raychem and Sandvine and has won several life-time achievement awards for her work. Pat is a mom, golden retriever lover and big time San Francisco Giants fan! Come on by if you’re ever at a Giant’s game and she’ll welcome you with open arms.

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