What if you could offer professional development and employee training that made staff not just want to improve, but to crave knowledge and skills improvement? It’s more than possible.
The Science. When dopamine pours down the neurological reward pathways of a person’s mesolimbic dopamine system, it does more than take their brain for a ride on a wave of neurological happy juice. Attention sharpens. Details are scrutinized. And your brain creates a memory of the event. Dopamine is the chemical that fuels human drive, focus, and obsession.
The Behavior. Gameplay — especially video gameplay — can really kick off a dopamine rush in your team. Video games are tailor-made to light up our mesolimbic dopamine system. The frequency and intensity of rewards in gaming is something our brains LOVE. As a result, players really lean into gameplay. It’s why gamers of all ages rarely play for just a few minutes — the highly stimulating environment keeps those happy hormones flowing.
Why would something so unnatural as a round of Xbox trigger such a primordial response? Studies show the brain actually has difficulty discerning between real-life events and those that are imagined. So, when placed in a simulated and stimulating virtual gaming environment, the brain reacts with the same increase in attention as it would to a real event.
The Science of Desire, Attention — and Learning
Positive feelings are largely triggered by the two “happy hormones”: dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine plays a significant role in brain processes related to desire, cravings, and motivation. It fuels the brain’s reward system, helping humans make the connection between events and positive outcomes by giving us a rush of pleasure. Dopamine is also integral to the brain’s ability to form memories.
Imagine you were a caveman that happened upon a grove of delicious fruit trees. Your brain would want you to remember those fruit trees, so it gives you a burst of happiness. This, in turn, reinforces your memory of the event, location, etc., as your brain craves more delicious, fruity rewards.
Serotonin is another brain chemical that can trigger pleasurable feelings. Think of a time when you were recognized by upper management. You can thank serotonin for that feeling you get when recalling your moment in the sun. Whenever a staff member is recognized for positive performance, their brain is awash in serotonin.
It’s a bit discomforting to realize that we have less control over our emotions than we think. However, an understanding of the chemistry bubbling inside our brains can help explain why some training and professional development tactics work — and others don’t.
How Do You Improve Interest in Compliance Training? Gamification.
Compliance training, product training, sales training, and onboarding are all things that many employees (unfortunately) approach with a “just gotta get through this” attitude. But it’s not the material they dread. It’s that the material isn’t typically presented in a way that engages their brains — and the release of those happy hormones.
This is illustrated in one of the biggest issues in professional training and development: lack of retention.
“The estimated percentages of how much information learners forget after the initial learning period varies, with most estimates falling between 75 and 98 percent.” — Training Magazine
When employees are not offered a workplace training experience that leverages their brain chemistry, their attention wanders and retention suffers.
Talent Development Tip: Put Your Team’s Brains on Games
As an L&D professional, you invest in workplace education materials with the hope that the information is ingested and retained. Unfortunately, most approaches to development and training — like lectures or reading PDFs — aren’t designed to trigger the release of brain chemicals that enable memory creation. Investing in a platform that includes virtual learning or gamified online training can improve your employees’ interest in and retention of content delivered for leadership development, safety education, sales training, and compliance sessions.
How to Gamify Workplace Learning and Development
When your employees are working through the levels in their favorite video game, they are in an intense state of attention and learning — which increases retention.
“80% of U.S. workers believe game-based learning is more engaging and interesting than traditional classroom-based learning.” — Deloitte
Look for a gamified eLearning platform with frequent rewards and levels that offer progressively challenging content. Whether you plan on conducting leadership training with management or use an online training platform to onboard new employees, you want them to be rewarded with success to get their serotonin flowing, and fun challenges that trigger the flow of dopamine.
The emotions learners experience while playing through the professional development material will also create a deeper investment in and connection to what they have learned. The right gamified workplace learning and training platform will have them craving to play.
And a word about content. Don’t choose content that sugarcoats professional development. Choose one that was created specifically for workplace education. Studies have shown that people learn more from educational games where learning is intrinsic to the gameplay.
Use Rewards and Awards to Successfully Gamify Workplace Education
Look for a gamified eLearning experience with a leaderboard. Humans are hard-wired to love being appreciated. It’s not egotistical — it is chemical. After all, nothing gets the serotonin pumping like personal recognition. When creating incentives for reaching the top of the professional development leaderboard think: more frequent, and with a bigger splash.
Dopamine is triggered by rewards and the anticipation of rewards. Not by the size of the reward. In fact, more immediate rewards have been shown to have a greater impact on motivation than long-term, larger rewards.
Studies have also shown that the prospect of an immediate reward led to a 35% increase in people sticking with a task, versus 19% for a larger, delayed reward.
Remember that our brain chemistry has evolved to help us remember where the good fruit is — not to win Hawaiian vacations. Even small rewards trigger a solid dopamine release.
And don’t forget to add a little serotonin to your staff’s brain chemistry cocktail. Making a big deal out of small, positive wins during the training process will go a long way to helping staff retain the information.
When you adopt a gamified approach to professional development, you are giving employees information the way they crave it: fast, intense, and fun.