Not all learning is created equal. And when it comes to online learning, there are many routes you can take. People develop platforms to create different learning experiences and objectives, whether they simply want learning to be enjoyable, they need to just check a box that the course was completed, or they want the fastest and cheapest path to completion. But, in many cases, online learning platforms can’t demonstrate proof of learning. It’s not that fun isn’t valuable to learning, in fact, it can be when used appropriately. It’s not that the fastest options aren’t effective, because learning can be fast when people are engaged. But when evidence of learning matters and people need to retain important information longer, online learning platforms informed by brain science principles is the most effective route. 

Cause and effect drive the learning process. Causes out in the real world can lead to learning effects in the brain. Some “causes” are more potent than others, since people tend to remember some things better than others. In the cognitive science world, causes are known as “triggers” and the effects in the brain are known as “switches.” Amplifire’s learning platform was built from the research of some of the world’s most renowned cognitive scientists, who have discovered which triggers are more conducive to faster, lasting learning compared to others — in other words, the platform is designed to foster better learning. During learning, not only does Amplifire track and report on completion in online courses, but it also measures each learner’s path to mastery, demonstrating evidence that real learning took place.  

So how can triggers flip mental switches, and how do they translate into online learning platforms that facilitate faster learning and better retention? 

4 Steps to devising techniques in online learning 

One of our tasks is to describe useful distinctions between the triggers in the real world (which Amplfire’s engineers code into techniques in our platform) from the switches in the brain they affect. Here are four steps that describe the translation into online learning. 

  • The first step considers the most useful model of what it is to be a human being that learns about the world, encodes a representation of it in their mind, and remembers it at will.
  • The second step describes the learning switches in the brain that are active during learning and the memory formation.
  • The third step identifies triggers in the world that switch on those circuits that are responsible for learning and memory.
  • The fourth and last step invents techniques that can be coded into learning platforms. This stage is working through the cause-and-effect model and figuring out how information can be presented, tagged, timed, organized, and communicated to trigger the brain’s learning switches.

So if learning effectively in an online setting is reliant on these triggers and switches, what are they and how do they work? 

The learning switches in the brain 

These 14 switches are the result of decades of scientific research and have been previously identified by Amplifire in various papers (see our blogs on cognitive, emotional, and motivational triggers). These are the switches that Amplifire has discovered so far that have a direct bearing on memory, cognitive processes, and the emotional and motivational drives to learn. 

tripartite self brain switches

Turning triggers in the real world into online learning techniques 

Triggers and switches correlate to causes and effects. However, the distinction between a cognitive trigger and a mental switch is not always clear. For example, take the phrase “fun and games.” The two words seem nearly synonymous, but upon inspection we can see that fun is an internal experience that a person feels inside their brain. It’s an emotional state that derives from some combination of valence and activation on the map of human emotion and it has a biochemical source which originates in a lovely combination of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.  

Games, on the other hand, exist out in the world. Monopoly and baseball exist outside the brain, nevertheless, they have a profound effect on the feelings the brain generates. A game is a trigger that throws the internal switch called fun. This is also an example of what the Amplifire platform achieves in the learning process. Amplifire’s task is to find the triggers that throw the switches that lead to learning, and then code those triggers into online techniques. 

Triggers and switches in the brain

Here are some ways that triggers appear in Amplifire: 

Multiple-choice questions: According to research by some of the world’s leading cognitive scientists, the multiple-choice format is the best type of test question to truly promote better, long-lasting learning. The multiple-choice format used by Amplifire presents a prompt with several answers in which one or more choices are correct, and one or more choices are incorrect. The test-taker must read and contemplate all the answers to determine which is correct, invoking a “search and retrieval” of information stored in the brain. Therefore, multiple choice is not merely about recognizing the correct answer. It is a combination of recognition and recall, tapping into the cognitive process that increases memory retrieval and storage strength. 

Feedback: Feedback is a great way to directly access the brain’s natural memory-storage process to help learners retain more correct information. Studies have shown that feedback in the form of a correct answer and explanation can improve retention dramatically. This is especially true for low-confidence, correct answers. Let’s face it, we’re not always confident about the answers we give, but feedback including the right answer can help solidify correct information in learners’ minds. Therefore, offering an opportunity for feedback (slightly delayed after a learner answers a question) can greatly enhance retention. Amplifire includes feedback for every question and response type. 

Repetition: The rehearsal process is one of the most effective ways to create long term memory. Science has shown time and time again that repetition is an effective way to commit information to memory. Psychologist Herrmann Ebbinghaus demonstrated that a first learning attempt creates a memory trace, but that trace is vulnerable to rapid forgetting. He also discovered that memory improves through repetition and flattens the rate at which we forget things.  

In the 1950s, psychologist Donald Hebb postulated repetition is linked to the strength of the synaptic connections between neurons — memory formation. He pointed out that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” The more something is repeated, the stronger the memory pathway is forged. In Amplifire, the platform repeats a question until mastery is achieved, showing that learning has occurred. 

These are just a few examples of how learning that’s guided by brain science is uniquely effective, and we’ve seen our clients enjoy the benefits of science-based learning time and time again. For further detail on cognitive triggers, emotional triggers, and motivational triggers, continue reading about the psychology and science of learning on our blog. 


From the beginning, Amplifire has relied on innovative brain science to guide its product development to create the most effective learning and training solution, perfectly tailored to the way the human brain works. Learn more about how Amplifire helps people learn better and faster by checking out a demo.