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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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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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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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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In Search of Fun

by Monica Cornetti
CEO, Sententia Gamification

Is it possible to make dull, difficult, tedious, or challenging tasks just a little more fun? 

What if you could make your employee learning experiences interesting, challenging, and FUN -- perhaps more game-like?

The reality is… you enjoy playing games. You’ve been playing games since the days of cavemen, and it is your nature to compare yourself to see how you measure up to others. Games drive emotions, build loyalty, and create character. 

Watch people immersed in gameplay and you’ll see their whole being is involved. They’re using their skills to the utmost. Time becomes meaningless and minutes, even hours, fly by. What if you could deconstruct games to understand what causes people to play games for hours, being completely involved in an activity for its own sake?

Because FUN is a completely subjective concept, to create courses that learners find relevant and fun is the pursuit of every...

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What Makes Your Learners Tick? (The Secret to Gamification Design)

by Monica Cornetti
CEO, Sententia Gamification

Gamification is an effective tool to make training engaging and fun, because it uses the dynamics of games, such as collaboration, chance, and progress, to tap into learners’ intrinsic desires to master and complete tasks.

When done well, gamification makes training more engaging because it requires participants to complete a challenge, helps them see their progression, and gives them instant feedback and reinforcement.

However, it is important to recognize and address common obstacles that can crop up when using gamification in training. The obstacles include failing to identify why gamification is being used and not knowing whom you are designing for.

Because gamification relies on triggering an action in learners, the key to success is developing solid learner personas. We’ve found that most organizations don’t do assessments of who the players are and what motivates them. What makes your people tick?

Many...

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Lotteries as a Game Mechanic… Fun or Manipulation? (Part 1)

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

Recently I read some interesting research on the use of lotteries to change behaviors. While the results of these different programs are significant, people criticized the use of lotteries as manipulative, even when this game mechanic caused people to do helpful things such as save for their futures and get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. 

I will discuss the successful use of lotteries as a game mechanic in a following article and encourage you to consider using lotteries to engage employees and learners, but I thought a pre-amble that hopefully sidesteps the “moral” associations of lotteries would be helpful. 

Elsewhere I’ve argued that what makes a game mechanic “fun” is its appeal to specific (intrinsic) motivators. For instance, Badges appeal to the motivator of Saving (the need to collect). The reason some people like Badges and others don’t care for...

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