Every Profession that Designs Experiences For Others Uses Personas... Except Learning and Development

Pretty much every profession that designs experiences for other people uses personas… except the learning and development community. Game designers, app designers, web page designers all rely on personas to determine what will appeal to their target audiences and what things they should avoid. But for some reason, instructional designers skip this stage. They simply build a program around the course material without consideration of their “customers.”

Personas came from the marketing world a few decades ago. Marketers realized that focusing on whole populations wasn’t effective. They needed actual personas who are so complete you feel like they are your friend. Once you have their picture in front of you, you can create marketing copy that feels like you are talking directly to a single person instead of broadcasting to an entire population.

Whenever we speak about learner personas at conferences, we get push back. People say things like, “You...

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What Can We Learn from the Marshmallow Tests for the Gamification of Learning?

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

In our efforts to make learning engaging through gamification, we may trip over some unintended consequences. It turns out that there are some advantages to dry, boring lectures. 

It goes back to the famous “Marshmallow Tests” that began in the 1960s. As an aside, the Marshmallow tests didn’t just involve marshmallows. Researchers showed young children a small treat, whatever the child liked. If they liked marshmallows, it was a marshmallow; if they liked something better than marshmallows, then that’s what they were offered. 

The researchers told the children that if they waited and didn’t eat the treat until the researcher returned that the child would get two of the treats. However, at any time, the child could ring a bell and eat the treat, but they wouldn’t get the second treat.  

Some children rang the bell almost immediately; others were able to hold...

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A "Hold-Your-Pee" Game Mechanic?

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Sententia Gamification Chief Motivation Officer

I recently read an article about creating engagement at events in a manner that people put the needs of the group ahead of their own. The author mentioned a bar in College Park, MD, that had an innovative beer special:  beer was $1.50 until someone, um, “relieved themselves.” When someone couldn’t hold it anymore and used the restroom, the beer prices went back to the regular price.

This game mechanic, “hold-your-pee,” probably won’t get included on Sententia Gamification’s list of game mechanics, but like all mechanics, hold-your-pee does appeal to different core motivators differently.

For instance, if someone were highly motivated by Acceptance, they would leave the bar and drive down to the road to use the restroom at a McDonalds instead of letting down the group. This game mechanic would put them under a lot of stress both emotionally and physically.

On the...

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The Dark Side of Oxytocin

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

In several of my articles and webinars, I’ve noted the importance of story in learning programs. Specifically, I mentioned the work of Paul Zak who, with the help of the Department of Defense, has shown that when we hear a character-driven story, even if it is as emotionless as the founding story of your company, we get a nice spike of oxytocin.               

Zak has made a name for himself in the study of oxytocin, being called the “Love Doctor” for his prescription of eight hugs a day. And while love can make the world go ‘round, it turns out it really isn’t as simple as eight hugs, especially during the #metoo era.               

Mammals produce oxytocin in their nervous system and bloodstream. It’s most obvious use is to...

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Raspberries, Learning, and a Dose of Dopamine

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

We LOVE dopamine. The release of this neurochemical in our brains rewards us when we do things that are/should be good for us and/or the passage of our DNA to the next generation. We feel pleasure, for instance, when we see a raspberry because our brain knows that when we eat it, the glucose will give us energy (and it will taste good). Soon afterwards, though, the dopamine drops off, and we desire another berry to get that dopamine dose again. We will even walk back to the berry patch and fight with the stickers to get the next raspberry.

But what is even more interesting is that dopamine appears to be involved in learning and memory.

To exert some control over an uncertain life, dopamine rewards us when we discover information about our environment. After all, when we return to the berry patch next month, we’ll only see a tangle of stickers. Our ancestors needed to learn about seasons so that they would...

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Pushing Boundaries Through Play

Play, at least from an evolutionary psychological perspective, isn’t always smiles and unicorns. Watch any group of children playing, and you’ll see them push the boundaries. Boys will typically escalate “rough-and-tumble” play until someone expresses pain. And while girls stereotypically are less physically aggressive, their play often involves psychological components, such as, teasing, gossip, and exclusionary clique-formation. 

While adults typically intervene when boundaries get pushed during play, it’s important to understand that this is vital aspect of play. All mammals engage in this type of play, especially as juveniles. Watch two dogs playing, and the snarling and tugging will continue until one of them yelps. Similarly, a group of children will escalate rough-housing until someone says, “Hey, that hurt,” or a few tears are shed. 

Typically, the play pauses at this point. The hurt and hurter both learn something about...

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Espionage, Subterfuge, and Double Agents

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

The Navy SEALS have a saying, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying. (And if you get caught, shame on you.)” 

This week, we added ten new game mechanics to Sententia’s Game Mechanics document. It turns out, we missed a whole category of mechanics, even though my motivation profile finds these mechanics enjoyable. And if we overlooked them, chances are you have as well.

Why? Well, when we look at the Motivation Profiles of the professionals going through our Level 2 Gamification Certification, we find that most of them are nice and honorable. By extension or extrapolation, we can assume that most people in the Learning and Development field are also nice and honorable. If we can’t make this leap, then it says something about the people who have not gone through our programs, which would create an interesting marketing proposition (“Are you mean and dishonest?...

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Play Makes You Smarter—Seriously

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

Science shows that the bigger your brain, the more you play and the more complex your play is—at least compared with other animals. From dogs to dolphins, the bigger the brain, the more likely you are to play.

Neuroscientists have hypothesized that the evolutionary roots of play lie in our need to deal with the social dynamics that come from a complex world with expanding social groups. As our brains grow, so do our interactions with our environment and culture.            

Scientists assume that play programs the higher brain regions such as the neocortex. If this were true, then the desire for play must lie in more ancient regions of our brains. In fact, when the neocortex is removed from rats early in their lives, they play as much as any rat. But when lesions are cut in the thalamic somatosensory project areas of the brain (ancient parts of...

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Territory Exploration and Learning: Fortnite and Learning Programs

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Sententia Gamification Chief Motivation Officer

I was in high school when Zork was available on the Commodore 64. My friends and I spent hours a day exploring the imaginary world with a notebook full of what we learned about the realm, the questions to ask, the instructions to give, and so on. 

With only 64K in memory, the only graphics this game had were on the floppy disk case (Yes, I was so cool that I had one of the first floppy drives). Our whole experience we had with this vast underground territory was through typing questions and making decisions on the answers we received.  

Of course, Fortnite is a completely different experience than what I had decades ago, but if we remove all the shooting, the core desire that made Zork fun for me is probably part of what makes Fortnite fun for you (or your children): The core desire I label as Adventure

When Dr. Stephen Reiss was mapping out core human desires. He noticed that everyone...

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Using an "In-Game Economy" in Your Learning Programs

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

In-game economies are a common game mechanic in gamified learning programs; however, it is important to understand that people interact differently with economies based on their Motivation Profile. Without such an understanding, we risk unnecessarily stressing participants, and in some incidences, they may abandon our program.

Broadly defined, the game mechanic of economies involves some type of currency that is used to buy, sell, or trade inside the game. This currency can take different forms. At its simplest, a participant may use the points they’ve earned to “purchase” access to the next level. A more complex economy may involve an actual currency with which participants can purchase in-game items, such as weapons and adornments for their avatars.

For example, in my course, This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Grammar, I have dueling economies. The narrative for the program is Grandma...

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