Why Understanding Learner Motivation Is Key For Gamification

learner motivation, gamification

Just like eLearning can’t take place without a deep understanding of learner motivation, gamification in employee training won’t work without an understanding of what drives and motivates employees. Just adding points or badges to a learning module is not gamification. Each game mechanic taps into different motivators, so to apply the right ones, you have to understand what motivators you are trying to activate, and how they align to the goal of the learning experience. You can find an in-depth look at how different game mechanics appeal to different key motivators in our eBook here.

A great way to think about it is this. Dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit will motivate a reaction from the rabbit. But you wouldn’t dangle a carrot in front of a frog. The frog isn’t motivated like the rabbit is because carrots just don’t appeal to frogs. The same goes for game mechanics in learning. Rewards and leadership boards might work well with someone who is highly motivated by achievement and status, whereas an avatar feature would better engage someone who is highly motivated by self-expression.

The ARCS Model

Learner motivation can be anything from “I want to buy a new car” to “I want to be employee of the month,” but the trick is determining the best way to light a fire under learners speaking to their core motives for the best results.

The ARCS model of Motivational Design Theories (attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction) has been the gold standard for how to promote and sustain motivation in learning since the 80s when it was developed by John Keller, professor of instructional systems and educational psychology at the University of Florida. But while the ARCS model is a great place to start, instructional designers must delve deeper to really understand what makes their learners tick.

The analysis phase might seem like it slows the instructional design process down, but taking the time to assess and determine learner motivation reveals which game mechanics align with your learners’ driving motivators resulting in higher engagement and motivation (which basically means deeper learning that sticks).

Can I Have Your Attention Please…

It’s not by chance (or clever acronym) that attention is listed first in the ARCS model. Attention might seem surface-level at first, but it’s what makes learners sit up and take notice of the content. Discover what makes your learners’ ears perk up. In some cases, that might mean leveraging a bit of humor to lighten the mood. In other cases, it’s outlining the “what’s in it for me?” principle to prove to learners that the subject matter is worthy of their time. Whatever the case, good instructional designers know that without a learner’s attention, there is little motivation to continue watching, reading, or otherwise experiencing the material.

Make Sure to Stay Relevant

Have learners been there, done that? Does the subject matter even… matter? These are the questions asked before any information is put into an eLearning module and needs to be considered when applying gamification. It’s hard to get learners to care if, before they even start a program, their brains disengage due to irrelevant content. That’s where tools like analogies, storytelling, and even personal choice and autonomy can motivate learners: The material is modeled in a way that proves that its relevant and useful.

Be careful, though: Tying learning back to previous lessons can be a common and useful way to prove relevancy, but too much repetitiveness can turn off even highly motivated learners. Motivation happens when learners perceive value and acknowledge a potential knowledge gap.

Confidence is Key

Learners should know where they stand in order to enhance motivation. Creating key objectives and benchmarking from the start helps learners self-assess and know where they currently stand. A motivated learner needs to understand where they fall in the pack and how that position jives with their personal goals.

Part of increasing learner confidence is communication. An instructional designer might build in assessment and ranking tools such as badges or quizzes so learners are never left in the dark. But that same confidence can come from giving learners control over their own learning path. Learners who can toggle their learning speed, topics and prescribed materials feel confident that they are responsible for themselves.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Finally, instructional designers must assess how learner satisfaction can motivate–both intrinsically and extrinsically. Sure, a pat on the back might feel good, but it’s hardly enough to make a learner go back for more. Instead, assess the need for rewards as part of the learning process. Human’s all share the same core drivers, like reward, status, achievement, and so forth. Mechanics, like earning points and badges, as well as seeing immediate positive feedback from superiors (who are following along via leaderboard or LMS) can tap into these deep desires.

Doing the research and analysis on your learners’ motivation is what separates successful gamification from misaligned strategies and wasted time. Assessing learner motivation allows you to better create material that engages users and makes a real difference once the program is complete.