What Haunted Houses Can Teach Us About Adult Learning Design

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

“It’s not gross; it’s slime.” the goblin kept saying as he touched our faces with something while we were bottle-necked in a dark, tight hallway. We were a group of undergrads giggling through our fear and creeps. And we paid what for us was good money for the experience. 

It’s odd that of all that happened during my undergrad years, the memories of that haunted house are vivid and specific. 

This is because of the amygdala, our brain’s early alarm system. Thy amygdala sits behind the eye and over our ear, and we have one on each side of our brain. These almond-shaped guys react to sight, sound, touch, and taste. And when the alarm goes off, they flood the bloodstream with stress hormones that increase the heart rate and respiration, and thus blood pressure.  

I remember the smell of the slime, how the air flowed through the haunted house, the sounds of...

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The Trouble with Pirates

By intentional design, the Sententia Gamification Level 3 Master Craftsman Certification is a 3-day Pirate Themed, immersive Master Mind event. From the location, to the food, scheduling of master mind vs. creative time, extra-curricular activities, and even the room set up, all are strategically mapped out to enable the participants to enter a magic circle of play and creation.

Once inside the magic circle, outside things do not distract – we take over an historic inn, in a little Texas town, where the streets roll up by 8:00 p.m. The learner’s focus is solely on the event and the activities taking place within that world.

This full immersion requires a form of submission to rules, involves a willing suspension of "normal" and a conscious and voluntary acceptance of the conditions of the master mind environment. Surprisingly, this in return, gives the participants unrestricted access to possibilities for full participation.

And we have successfully shaped and iterated...

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The Most Boring Game Possible

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification 

Mauricio Delgado set out to create the most boring game possible and ended up discovering some interesting things about stimulating engagement. 

At Rutgers University, Delgado wanted to discover where excitement and anticipation originates in our brains, so he created the dullest of all possible games in an attempt to isolate other stimulants.            

He had participants lie in an fMRI. Above them was a monitor screen that would flash a number between one and nine. The game aspect of the experience involved guessing whether the number that was about to be shown was greater or less than five. When prompted, the participants click the appropriate number to register their guess. Then they’d discover if they guessed correctly or incorrectly.            

The participants were...

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Power as a Key Motivator for Play

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

In the first-ever empirically-based taxonomy of human needs and desires (how’s that for an opening line), Steven Reiss, PhD identified 16 Core Desires that we all have. These Core Desires motivate us to do certain things in life to satisfy them. What makes us different from each other is the emphasis we place on each one of the Core Desires.    

For instance, Power (the desire to exert one’s will) is an important motivator because the more power we have, the more resources we have, and by extension, the more likely our children will survive and pass along our genes to future generations.    

So while we all have a desire for Power, some of us want more power than others (think politicians vs. your company’s receptionist of 24 years).    

From an evolutionary perspective, whether packs or tribes, animals tend to self-organize in a hierarchy....

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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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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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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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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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Seven Ways to Add Stories to Your eLearning Courses

by Monica Cornetti
CEO, Sententia Gamification

We all know that stories are a great way to engage an audience, yet it seems so few people actually study and use the tool in a manner that truly impacts their audience. 

So, what does it actually take to create a story that is not only engaging but also a highly effective training tool?

Storytellers often use one of seven basic plots identified by Christopher Booker, in his Jungian-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning:

  1. Overcoming a Monster – the hero(es) must overcome a dark evil creature, person, or entity that has exerted an evil destructive force over a person, a group of people or a place. Examples:  The Silence of the Lambs, Dracula, Jaws, Hansel and Gretel
  2. Rags to Riches – the central character is seemingly plucked from nothing to greatness where they are very often rich with immense status. The hero very often gets quick success which is swiftly taken away from them. In order to...
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