Learning Trends

Learning Trends

Learning Trends

Given the recent rise in attention to gamification in education we might think of it as a shiny new toy; however, the fact is it’s actually a long-overdue return to the natural way we learn. As children, we have the unfettered freedom to play and create and envision anything we want for ourselves, whether it is pretending we have an imaginary friend or deciding we’ll be an astronaut someday. This behavior is not only expected, but considered part of our learning process, and in its absence our parents and doctors would be concerned that we were not developing normally.

Natural Learning

Everything begins to change as we enter the educational system. Most people’s memories of school are characterized by sitting quietly at their desks while the teacher spoon-fed them information from a textbook. They later regurgitated this material during tests and quizzes for feedback in the form of a grade. Everyone was supposed to fit into this mold and those who didn’t were considered disruptive and even labeled troublemakers. More recently, however, the model has begun to shift, with educators recognizing that even the students who appear to have the shortest attention spans are engaged when they can access information via a digital platform (i.e. on their devices) and interact with other users in a competitive or collaborative way. Seen through an old-school lens, this may appear to be an unhealthy screen addiction, but beneath the surface a complex neuroscientific dance is occurring, one in which they are absorbing material they might otherwise consider difficult or boring.


  1. Integrating Gaming
  2. Flow State
  3. Philosophy of Gamification

Integrating Gaming

Employers have caught onto this with a vengeance, incorporating gaming aspects such as immersive experiences, along with leaderboards and points for immediate feedback and bragging rights, into their hiring ad onboarding processes, as well as ongoing trainings. These efforts have met with significant, measurable success – an uptick of 50% in productivity and 60% in employee engagement. Moreover, 79% of workers have reported that the gaming experience has contributed to increased purpose and motivation at their jobs.

This begs the question, why is play still excluded from most curricula for older children and adults? This antiquated attitude about learning seems to dovetail with traditional notions about life itself. As we grow up we are socialized to become more “responsible,” “mature,” and the – big one – “realistic,” which often translates to a narrowing of professional aspirations … and giving up on activities classified as play.  This is despite the body of research documenting the role of play at any age in creating happier, more fulfilling lives.

Flow State

One of these researchers is Dr. Stuart Brown, who founded The National Institute for Play more than three decades ago. Brown defines play as a “state of mind that one has when absorbed in an activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of sense of time. And play is self-motivated so you want to do it again and again.”  He is describing a flow state, prominent in the work of psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura, experienced by athletes and artists when they are completely immersed in their chosen activity. This is supported by the distinction, made by psychologist and learning expert Dr. Peter Brown, between the activity and the attitude accompanying it: “Two people might be throwing a ball … or typing words on a computer, and one might be playing while the other is not.” To tell whether one is in a “state of play” or not, Brown says, one must look at indicators such as body language.  When one is in the flow they are freed from the “monkey mind,” or intrusive thoughts that normally plague us so they can focus on the task at hand. The flow state also has several emotional and physical benefits, including an increase in the brain’s pleasure center activity, creativity, and motivation, and the lessening of anxiety and symptoms of stress such as pain (i.e., tight muscles) and fatigue. Essentially, flow is the state of being one aims to achieve in meditation, however, while beginning meditators often struggle to clear or bypass intrusive thoughts, it happens effortlessly while engaged in activity one enjoys – be it gardening, playing basketball, or gaming.

Philosophy of Gamification

Moreover, the philosophy of gamification encompasses the belief that learning is a lifelong pursuit, not just in terms of experience but formal schooling – and the data bears this out. According to the National Center for Education Studies, 17% of part-time undergraduate students at four-year colleges are older than thirty-five; the number is far higher (61%) for two-year programs. Research also shows that the numerous benefits for people ages fifty and older returning to college are roughly the same as younger people, namely, a better financial outlook, mental acuity, and even increased health and longevity.

Clearly, there is an untapped market for gamification platforms in our educational system, particularly when it comes to adults. The good news is that popular culture is finally catching up to the work of Dr. Brown, resulting in a growing awareness of our need to embrace play at every stage – and every arena – of life, and making doing so in adult learning only a matter of time.

Gamification Build or Buy

Gamification Build or Buy

Gamification Build or Buy

Several Factors Impacting Success

The saying “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” usually refers to something being technically legal, acceptable, et cetera, but possibly not the most ethical or prudent. In the case of gamification, the caveat is more like, “The likelihood of higher revenue and/or better employee engagement is not an invitation to run headlong into the process without due diligence.”  Indeed, while the decision to gamify is probably a matter of “when” rather than “if,” there are several factors to consider than can impact your platform’s success, and the health of your company. One of these is whether you should buy that platform or build your own.

For most businesses, making the decision to use gamification is basically a no-brainer.  It capitalizes on the psychological and neuroscientific effects of gaming, such as lighting up the pleasure centers of the brain and improving data retention, to increase user enjoyment, motivate them to seek rewards or avoid loss and, hopefully, keep coming back. The result is a positive ripple that can affect every aspect of the company. Employees become more productive because the mundane tasks they usually avoid are more palatable – and even fun; moreover, the prizes and leaderboards for a stellar performance create an environment of both collaboration and healthy competition. The same is true for mandatory (and often snooze-worthy) trainings on new product lines or best practices. On the consumer side, users might be more excited about the rewards (i.e. points after purchasing a certain number of lattes) than the product or service – unless, of course, the product involves learning (i.e. Duolingo’s language courses), in which case the user is motivated by their own achievements. That said, while the benefits of gamification are obvious, the process to getting there may not be.

1. Money

2. Time

3. Plan Ahead


Money. For many businesses, the decision will be driven by cost. Whether you buy or build a platform, you will be paying, not just for the technology but the knowledge of experts who design and maintain it. The price tag in either case is nothing to sneeze at, with a wide range in the thousands – or tens of thousands – of dollars for designers, project managers, and front- and back-end developers. It is also an ongoing expense, be it in the form of a subscription fee or freelancers you regularly engage to fix glitches and add new features. Again, the first step is research, research, research. Some of the initial questions you might ask include, “Does the projected increase in revenue from gamifying the purchase process justify our expense?” and “Are there are other measures we can/should put in place before gamifying to improve corporate culture?” The concept of gamification has been around, in one form or another, as long as business itself, so you might start out with an “old school” method as a way of collecting data. For example, if a gamification goal is to motivate a lagging sale team, run a contest for the highest quarterly sales in that department, with increasingly attractive rewards for levels of performance. This way, you will see if the boost warrants taking it to a larger, company-wide scale – and perhaps what sort of platform you need.


Time – This is another big one, not only in terms of human hours to create and/or maintain the platform but the timeliness of making the experience available to users. Let’s say you are launching a new product and want to reward consumers for their purchases. The idea of your own platform may be tempting, but if you don’t have staff dedicated to updating it on a regular basis you may constantly find yourself behind the eight ball – and losing fickle consumers who will quickly turn to your competitors. In this case, licensing it from a SaaS company makes more sense because it will enable you to direct your resources to other aspects of marketing, quality assurance, and so on. On the other hand, when you have your own platform, you can build it incrementally according to your own pace and needs as determined by measurable results and user feedback. This may also be the far more economical option, as every change you implement through a licensing company will result in a much larger bill.

Plan Ahead

Given the above factors, you can see how the decision to buy or build is not a simple one, but requires planning, a realistic assessment of your company’s size and position in its market, and a clear vision of where you want to take it the future. Not everyone will be a Facebook or a Walmart – nor does everyone desire to be. That is the beauty of gamification – its principles apply whether you are a multinational conglomerate or a mom-and-pop operation, allowing you to earn more, build communities and brand recognition, and increase employee satisfaction and retention.  As for your platform, you want to make it a destination spot that attracts people anywhere on the globe, and keeps them coming back, without breaking your bank.