The Gamification Effect: How Game-Like Elements Aid In Better Learning And Retention

Gamification is becoming an increasingly popular trend in learning and development circles.

The practice of adding game-like elements, like point systems, levels, and rewards, has shown promising results in improving retention levels among students. As a result, elearning products like learning management systems (LMS) now come loaded with the capability of including such elements in online training courses.

When you knock out an opponent in a game, or wipe out an enemy squad, the reward centre of your brain lights up like 4th of July fireworks. Gamification elements depend on causing a similar reaction in your brain every time you “level up” after an assessment.

One of the best examples of the same is seen in the language learning app Duolingo. Every time you complete enough lessons and learn new skills, you level up.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the matter and as a result, we know quite a bit about the effect of gamification elements on the brain, and how they improve retention in students.

Let’s look at some of these effects:

Dopamine Release With Each Achievement

If you have been reading up on how the brain functions, you already know that we crave dopamine. Dopamine is the “feel-good” hormone and every time we experience something positive, our brain releases dopamine.

With gamified learning, every time you earn more points on an assessment, or “level up”, your brain releases dopamine. Over time, the brain starts associating the training experience with dopamine release and is motivated to pay more attention during lessons, in order to perform better during assessments.

Serotonin Release From Past Achievements

Serotonin is another hormone that is responsible for regulating our overall mood. More serotonin is associated with a better, more positive mood. On the other hand, low levels of serotonin generally bring about a gloomy mood.

One of the most commonly known factors associated with maintaining healthy levels of serotonin in the brain is a balanced diet. However, another less known way of improving serotonin levels in the brain is by remembering past achievements.

Gamification features like badges and achievement cabinets leverage this knowledge to provide a feel-good top up of serotonin whenever students/learners are feeling unmotivated. Looking at them, a student may become more motivated to continue with their training and striving to achieve similar badges in the later stages of their curriculum.

More Fun, Less Stress

Games are fun. In fact, this study shows how games are a great way to reduce stress and manage mood. This principal is also true for gamified learning.

When training is presented in a game-like format, it helps reduce the stress of learning within the learners, helping them maintain a positive mood that allows them to focus better, which ultimately translates to improved retention.

Games Stimulate The Recall Section Of The Brain

The area of the brain that is responsible for remembering things is called the Hippocampus. When this area is functioning at its best, we tend to remember things better.

Studies have also shown that playing games stimulates the Hippocampus area of the brain. Hence, when games are combined with learning, it results in more efficient retention of information in the brain.


The science behind gamification is pretty solid. Hundreds of studies have shown us many different ways through which gamified elements can improve retention and understanding of concepts within learners. More and more organisations are realising the same and applying these principles in their training initiatives. After all, our education needs to evolve with our understanding of the human mind.

Have you tried any learning apps that use gamification features? How was your experience? Share it with us in the comment section.