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Have you ever promised an unwilling child a treat if they do something they don't want to?

'If you finish task x I'll treat you with y.'

A positive feedback loop

If you have, then you've created a positive feedback loop (according to the School of Behaviourism). This is when you motivate someone to do a task, and if they complete that task you give them a reward. This in turn reinforces that action and the person repeats the action to get another reward. In due course you've created good habits, or so the theory goes.

feedback loop.png

So what reward can you offer a player (learner) to complete a task?

It's a simple question, with a simple answer - what motivates one person does not motivate another person. That's why some people love to play Scrabble, and others would prefer to gouge their own eyes out.

But that answer doesn't give us much to go by.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivating factors

What we do know is there is a spectrum of motivations.On the one side are all the things you can say to someone to appeal to their extrinsic motivations: 'Do this and I'll give you £10, a bonus, a trip to the sweet shop…' The driver here is not the task itself, but something external to it. And these motivators can help build good habits.

But if this helps change behaviour, how do you change someone's thoughts?

On the other side of the spectrum are intrinsic motivating factors; where you see the value of completing the task for the benefit it provides in and of itself: 'I'll do what it takes to look after my partner, the kids, simply because I love them.'

Extrinsic motivators have a short-shelf life; intrinsic motivators are more powerful, but have to be authentic and true.

If you can present an extrinsic reward to your player, you'll drive them to change for the short-term reward. If you stop the reward, there's no motivation to continue the behaviour.

Alternatively if you provide an intrinsic motivator you'll drive people to make a positive change because they believe in the value of the change. The difference between these is the difference between saying: 'Work harder to help make the company more profitable and then you'll get a bonus', and 'don't be wasteful so that together we can help save the planet' (think of Marks and Spencer's Plan A).

Three intrinsic motivators you can implement in your courses 

So the next time you gamify a course, try adding one of these three intrinsic motivators:

  1. Competence
    Present a skill the learner will value (A course on how to be more happy at work)

  2. Autonomy
    Don't force learners, let them chose what they'd like to learn (Choose a topic you're interested in from this bank of resources)

  3. Relatedness
    Identify a real benefit they'll gain in their lives (Help yourself get a promotion and earn more money)

So how can rewards demotivate?

A true story: When an American nursery started fining parents for coming late, parents started to arrive even later.

Why? Because in gamification terms the motivation to pick your children up is intrinsic – you miss them. But the fine drowned out that motivation and became extrinsic (to save yourself from a financial penalty). Now parents felt they'd paid for being able to pick their kids up late and two minutes turned into twenty minutes.

What could the nursery done differently to make the motivation intrinsic? Imagine if the nursery had sent a picture message saying that their child was waiting for them.

Next week: discover how to understand the people you play games with, and maybe win more often. And what type of learner are you? Socialiser, explorer, achiever or dominator?

More in this series