Why do we learn?

In the corporate sector, we have individual reasons for learning, just like we do outside of work. There are some commonalities in all organisations, but individuals typically have a few reasons to learn:

  • To build their professional skills or keep them updated
  • To advance in their career or change career
  • Curious or interested in a topic
  • To know how to do something in the moment – just in time
  • Mandatory to perform the job
  • Boss told me I should do this

Learning from an education psychology or pedagogical perspective aims to give learners the confidence to learn the new skill, apply it and create potentially new habits with it depending on the attitude of the individual and how it fits in their overall work and life. How we retain information and skills is often a combination of practise, feedback and application to situations we recognise or can relate to. Especially in adult education, having context to hook the new skills or information onto makes it easier to assimilate and comprehend.

When it comes to adding gamification into this equation, we typically look for meaningful points where a nudge forward or some reminders or endorsements are helpful. Some people will prefer deep diving into learning, others consume learning more like a pick and mix scenario. So exploring the habits, consumption patterns and preferences of the individual is key to get the gamification design best suited to the individual.

If you look back to the reasons why people learn, the first two on my list can be seen as more long term but very purpose driven.  Some of the matching game mechanics here could be competency building feedback either in a specific competency or generally level based. Having a reference of whether this is excellent or average in comparison to where other in the organisation are can be considered helpful by some and off-putting by others. Either way progression towards a new skill, completing a professional certification track or levelling up on specific content areas are useful feedback channels. Encouraging to come back every day to edge forward a little further can equally be useful, but not always achievable due to workload, travel etc.

Curiosity driven learning, tends to be more ad-hoc. If we become totally consumed by it then the commitment in time will tell that story and searching for more of the same materials. Helpful recommendation algorithms can keep this curiosity alive. Exploring may however also lead to confirmation that this isn’t quite what someone was looking for and they may find in a short period of time that they know enough, but don’t want to pursue it further. Giving the content or the topic a thumbs up to receive more of the same or thumbs down for less of the same will be helpful.

For the just in time learner, the search functionality is everything. The more advanced you can make it the better with the risk of having very narrow search results. Feedback on whether this was what you were looking for, will help the algorithm and help you in providing more accurate suggestions. Related topics and searches functionality can be helpful, because we may have nuances in how we phrase our searches. This kind of learner is also not necessarily platform loyal, if they can’t find answers in one place, they may look in another or simply just ask someone for a show and tell. Rating how helpful the material was is useful feedback, it tells if the learner satisfied their quest for knowledge or if more is required.

For mandatory and boss told me so training, the key is helping the learner progress. Ideally you want to build awareness of why some of this knowledge is relevant to them and test them on how good they already are, skipping forward based on test performance is useful here. Giving scenarios to apply their assumed knowledge to is equally useful. when they receive scores and feedback on how good or not they are, it will drive further action. This kind of learner, unless you can convince them they need help because you made them aware of a lack of or gap in their knowledge, will want to get things done quickly. Progression bars especially from the half way forward mark are the motivational elements that helps them complete, give that information too soon and it may work the opposite way.

Knowing why people learn especially the majority in an organisation, will tell you a lot about the culture and equally the gamification elements that may work. Testing and iterating is still required to ensure you observed patterns correctly in your user research. In my view, seeing how people interact with the design and what happens to learning is the fun part. You know you have hit the mark, when even expert sceptics have gone through a program and say it was more fun and better than expected in testing their skills. Expecting to get it right first time and 100% of the time is an illusion, just remember every time you tweak a design that you are releasing an update for your game, just like game designers do to help people stick with the game.


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