Motivation Hacks: 4 Ways I Gamify Learning

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by Johnn Four, Canada

Learning is sometimes uncomfortable. We’re not yet expert or skilled, so we experience a lot of failure early on. And we want to do great things with our future knowledge, but we’re not quite there yet. This causes a motivation problem and many of us give up early. However, I have a couple of solutions, “learning motivation hacks” if you will, and I’d like to share them with you today in the hopes you might find them helpful too. 

I love playing games. Big, complicated games and short, simple games. And I’ve taken what I’ve discovered about game design to gamify learning. That helps me get through that uncomfortable “not expert enough yet” hump.

1. Keep A Running Total


We humans don’t do so well with open-ended tasks. Fatigue and doubt creep in. So having a specific, measurable and tangible finish line helps us feel good about our progress and sets aside stress from having an unknown end point. My favourite games have scores. A score gives you instant feedback on how you’re tracking towards your goal. It’s fun improving your score, and you get a little burst of motivation each time you see your score improve.

For courses, I take an index card that I keep by my desk and draw checkboxes for each minor accomplishment I want to make. I create big checkboxes for major course milestones – assignments, activities and accomplishments. If a course is divided into several instalments or lessons, each gets a checkbox and I can see my progress as I check the boxes off. More importantly, I see the number of checkboxes left – a specific and finite amount – and this is motivating. While you’re not an expert yet, you can see actual progress and learning taking place through your actions. Achievement unlocked!

2. Plan Small Rewards

Winning a game is fun. You might do a victory dance or feel more confident. It’s rewarding. You can make the stages of learning rewarding in the same way too, so you have more fun and stay motivated. For example, after a certain number of lessons taken, you might allow yourself a sweet treat or special coffee. And after each big checkbox gets ticked, you might reward yourself with a free evening, small purchase or dinner with friends. The reward doesn’t need to be so big or expensive it overshadows the reward of learning. It’s more of a signal to the brain that learning is pleasure, trying new things is fun, and taking chances is ok. 

3. Try A Real World Project In Parallel

Another little game I play is to run a real world project alongside the course. As I learn new things, I build this project bit by bit.

Classes often use hypothetical scenarios and projects not real-world applicable out of necessity to accommodate our learning paths. But I always find it rewarding to apply whatever I learn as soon as possible to something I want to fix, improve or create in my life. So when a course starts, I brainstorm a list of projects I could do, using what I learn as I go. Then I pick the best idea that hits the sweet spot where real world benefit overlaps what I’ll learn in the course. In this way, I still do all the examples and tests and activities of the course, plus I get to see something outside the course and valuable to me taking shape. It’s a great way to practice and reinforce what you’ve learned, too – very motivating!

4. Compete With Friends

Some games appeal to my competitive nature. I want to win. If you enjoy this in games too, then set up a friendly competition with fellow classmates.

The trick here is picking the right victory conditions. You might be inclined to compete over highest test score. I feel this is a mistake. Your first goal is to complete the course, do all the assignments, and try your knowledge out. So rather than set up a system that only rewards the end result, which can cause stress and even more motivation problems for you, set up a competition that rewards learning actions instead. For example: Who can complete each lesson’s assignments first? Better yet, who doesn’t finish last? Compete over the actions you can take to be successful in the course, and you take advantage of good game design while rewarding actions that truly matter.

Games show us how to have fun in other areas of our life. Figure out what motivates you, and then turn that into scores and rewards, real-world projects and competitions that support your real goal: learning new skills and improving your life. Try out my tipps by yourself in one of iversity's MOOCs – just make your choice from iversity's course catalog:

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