All games use powerful triggers that cause learning, long term memory, and motivation. This is true of board games, video games (which now generate more revenue than movies), and sports. You can think of triggers as being out here in the real world in the form of things like people, nature, books, videos, and techniques in software. Certain triggers cause specific brain circuits to switch on, causing learning and long term memory so we can then remember what we’ve learned at a future point in time. Triggers are the cause, and learning is the effect. Some of the most effective triggers work through emotion and attention—two hallmarks of games.

These are the six gaming triggers built into the Amplifire algorithm:

Uncertainty propels game players forward because they don’t know exactly what is coming next. Uncertainty triggers curiosity, a mental state seen at right in a set of fascinating experimental results. Attention producing levels of dopamine skyrocket whenever a reward has a 50% likelihood of occurring (top curve). As Robert Sapolsky notes, “You have introduced the word maybe into the equation and that is reinforcing like nothing else on earth.” Dopamine and attention levels fall from this peak when the reward becomes predictable.

In Amplifire, the perceived reward is closing an information gap. First, you make a bet on your knowledge with the proposition that asks, “How sure are you?” That question stimulates uncertain expectations of reward—will you close the information gap? Maybe. Second, as you progress, Amplifire withdraws material that has been mastered. What’s left is increasingly harder material. This maintains high uncertainty and focused attention as you move through a module.

Feedback can boost learning by 500% when compared to non-feedback learning. In Amplifire, learners receive explanations about both correct and incorrect answers. This detailed elaboration strengthens both information storage and retrieval processes in the brain. Second, the review page shows learners precisely how they progressed through a module, from typically high levels of misinformation and doubt, to mastery of the material.

Confidence triggers a massive number of switches that affect learning. Making judgments of learning means storage and retrieval processes are activated. Asking “are you sure” results in metacognition (thinking about thinking) and causes both top-down attention and bottom-up salience. Confidence also spurs attention because it is correlated with social status—one of the most sought after personal qualities in the human experience.

Progress motivates future activity through the buoyant feeling that comes from reaching your goals. Amplifire adapts to each learner’s level of mastery so that the material is appropriately difficult, but not so hard that motivation suffers. This ensures a learning experience in a gratifying emotional state that the learner is likely to want to repeat, and repetition is a key cognitive trigger for durable memory.

Misinformation is a unique feature of Amplifire that makes clear the possibility that confidently held, but wrong information may lead to error, injury, or embarrassment sometime in the future. That emotionally alarming possibility, when revealed in Amplifire, focuses your attention on the learning so you can avoid that outcome.

A Note on Leaderboards: They are motivating in games, but create a dangerous, dispiriting risk in an educational setting because people can feel their core intelligence being judged and ranked. We believe that all people can learn enormous amounts of useful information. For some, it merely takes more time.

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