Learning, Gamification, and the Science Behind It All

Designing Digitally


Learning, Gamification, and the Science Behind It All

Most human beings are creatures that continue to learn throughout most of their lives. Learning is part of how our brains take in, process, save, and connect external information in a way that makes sense to us.

The concept of "science of learning" has its roots in the Cognitive Revolution of the 1950s. This is when multiple disciplines (philosophy, psychology, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, and anthropology) are banned under one term- Cognitive Science. Behaviourism, the previous school of psychology, aimed to understand how people learn from an experiential/physical point of view. But, this way of studying learning left out psychological processes, such as thought and memory.

Although the science of learning is still relatively new, a lot of headway has been made in this field, partly due to the evolution of technology. Today, handheld devices give us access to a plethora of information through the online medium, and as such, we can choose to learn something new every day. The user data resulting from such online learning can be used to improve the eLearning field and get a better understanding of how we, as humans, learn.

The Science Behind Learning

So, what exactly is the Science of Learning? It is a discipline that studies learners’ behavior, results, and feedback and outputs educational innovations to improve learning delivery for traditional and online learning methods. In other words, learning sciences study how people learn, draw practical conclusions, and then help create new learning tools for all of us.

Since today’s learning is intertwined with technology, many advancements focus on the relationship between learners and the technology they use. New training delivery methods like gamification, serious games, microlearning, and simulations, help students learn faster. Most online training platforms allow users to train on their own time, from anywhere in the world, and over any device.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is a learning delivery method that borrows game principles and elements to make training modules more engaging and fun for the learner. The underlying psychological concept that gamification is based on is "learning through play.” It comes from child psychology and represents the mental process kids use to make sense of the world around them.

Research shows that adults too learn more efficiently if the information they need to acquire is presented to them in a fun, game-like format. German philosopher, poet, and playwright Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller stated, "Man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays."

Thus, gamification in learning serves the purpose of training employees in a pleasurable, fun, and satisfactory way.

Combining the Science of Learning with Gamification Training

As mentioned, gamification and serious games provide the learner with an engaging and fun learning environment. These eLearning methods provide the learning through play component and include elements that the brain uses most efficiently to collect information: patterns, repetition, and the element of surprise.

You can teach your employees the basics of leadership, create an online onboarding training program, or initiate newcomers in cybersecurity by using gamification.

An easy way to start building a gamification-based employee training course is by completing the following checklist:

  1. Survey your employees

First thing's first! To set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals, you first need to figure out what level of skill and knowledge your audience is at regarding the subject matter of your training course.

Sending out a quick survey to interested parties will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. The data you acquire from these employee surveys allows you to begin shaping the course content. Knowing where your employees are at gives you a starting point from which to design, create, and deploy your eLearning training module.

  1. Set SMART goals

You'll want to set learning goals and outcomes to ensure the training has the right parameters as you start developing it. As mentioned, SMART goals imply being specific with what you want your learners to know by the end of the course.

Your goals also need to be measurable. This means that you'll need to incorporate software that can measure KPIs (key performance indicators) and collect UI/UX (user interaction and user experience) data and analyze it to draw some conclusions. This will give you valuable clues as to the efficiency and success of your program.

Make sure your goals are not set too high. They should be relatively easily achievable and not require more than three tries for the learner to pass a learning level successfully. Of course, the content you provide in training must be relevant to the day-to-day tasks employees need to problem-solve. Finally, setting time-bound goals will motivate employee learners to go through the training course at a reasonable pace.

  1. Use game elements

Badges, rewards, leaderboards, quizzes, and competitions are all gaming elements you can incorporate into your training module. Remember the aim is to make it fun for the learner but not at the expense of the learning material. Ensure that the design and functionality of your program align with employee learning goals. This means that you should only include those elements that bring value to the course overall and not distract from the expected learning outcomes.

  1. Integrate the social element

Integrating your course with social media platforms is an easy way of creating a community around the subject matter that employees are studying about. By doing this, you'll set the ground for higher interaction between employee learners. It also creates a space where people can ask questions, discuss various modules, and offer feedback for course improvement.

  1. Keep the design flexible

After gathering the data and planning your course, you'll start collecting the content and creating the course training levels. You'll want to do a test run with a control group before actually deploying your course. Doing this will help you figure out the bugs your online course might have, what content you need to include or take out, and whether the training program is an overall success. Keeping the design and content light at the beginning and leaving room for further changes to be made, is essential for developing flexible employee training.

Read also: Examples of Effective Gamification and Game-Based Learning in the Workplace 


The science behind learning has a history that goes back thousands of years, only that people didn't have a name for it back then. Cognitive science was among the first field of study that combined various disciplines intending to learn how people learn. 

Knowing how employees best integrate new information is an invaluable asset when developing online training courses. Using gamification in training allows employees to feel immersed in their learning experience and have fun in the process.