Hyperbolic Discounting – Why Time and Size Matter in Learning

Hyperbolic Discounting in Learning

Hyperbolic Discounting – Why Time and Size Matter in Learning

If you’re involved in the learning and development space, you cannot have missed the trends of gamification and microlearning. As organisations consider implementing these approaches, they are often vary of buying into fading fads – and rightfully so! However, a lot of the new methods and approaches that may come across as gimmicks actually have valid foundations in the science of teaching, pedagogy, as well as educational psychology. To help organisations understand why things like gamification and microlearning work, we decided to open up some of the learning psychology behind each approach. Hence, let’s look at a phenomenon called hyperbolic discounting and it’s effect on learning.

What is hyperbolic discounting in short?

Hyperbolic discounting is a phenomenon initially discovered in behavioural economics and is in fact one of the cornerstones of the field. The prevalent finding and consequence of hyperbolic discounting is people’s preference towards smaller rewards in the near future rather than large rewards in the distant future. Generally, research sees people as present-biased, meaning they are more likely to sacrifice long-term gains in terms of short-term interest.

Now, why does this matter in learning? The two major modern learning approaches basing on this behavioural trait are instant rewarding and microlearning:

1. Hyperbolic discounting explains the success of gamification

The underlying principle of gamification is to provide continuous and relatively high frequency rewards to motivate the learner. Whereas large contexts of learning may seem overwhelming, gamification helps learners to track their own progress in more manageable pieces. With instant rewards, learners always get some kind of “credit” for their participation.

This happens to play perfectly on the psychology of hyperbolic discounting. Rewards are no longer vaguely defined (e.g. this learning helps you in your career path) and difficult to assign a mental value to. Rather, learners know that when they commit to something, they will be instantly rewarded. Naturally, the rewards come in many kinds: badges, points, credits, financial rewards and social recognition just to name a few. The common denominator is that learners can “collect” them instantly.

2. Chunking learning content to cater for the present-biased

Now, it’s likely that gamification is not suitable for everything. Yet, the psychology of hyperbolic discounting and its effect on learning remains. The structure of learning content is a major factor in catering to the phenomenon. Whereas gamification tends to cater to extrinsic factors, you can use a bite-sized learning content structure to cater to the intrinsic aspects of learning motivation.

For instance, you may have a course you require your employees to take. However, as a whole, the course might seem overwhelming with its length. Learners procrastinate and delay uptake due to the high time investment required and rewards being outside of their immediate horizon. To overcome the problem, you should try chunking the content into manageable pieces. The approach of chunking content overlaps a lot with the concept of microlearning. Overall, the approach helps your learners to manage their own targets better. Doing a small task for a few minutes feels a lot easier. Consequently, this could increase your learning uptake and time-to-competency, as learners are engaging more consistently and frequently.

If you have challenges in your digital learning engagement and participation, we may be able to help. The help can be in the form of consulting on learning design or hands-on content development. Just contact us here to discuss your challenges. 

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Gamified Learning Design – 3 Emerging Concepts

Gamified Learning Design

Gamified Learning Design – 3 Emerging Concepts

Gamification is becoming increasingly popular in the corporate learning space – and for a valid reason. Gaming has been a popular pastime for quite a long time, especially among young people. Hence, they are also responding positively to gamified learning activities. However, it’s always important to make the right distinction between games and gamification. Gamification means the application of game-like elements in a non-game setting. For instance, sales organisation have used leaderboards or sales trophies for a long time – effectively gamifying the process.

Previously, we’ve looked at simple tools of gamification like badges and leaderboards as well as learning simulations. Thus, we decided to delve a bit deeper and introduce a few slightly more advanced techniques for designing gamified learning and tips on putting them into practice.

1. Applying progression and levels in learning content

The best games usually come with some kind of built-in or scripted progression. Players are able to progress through levels with increasing difficulty or complexity. This is quite easily applied in corporates as well with gamified learning. Instead of giving the learner all the content at once, you can create a sense of exclusivity and achievement by having the learners “unlock” new content as they progress. By doing this, you’re also effectively chunking the content into smaller pieces, which decreases the risk of overwhelming the learner. Furthermore, learners are able to recognise their own progress more clearly, which helps to boost their motivation.

2. Enabling points and unlocking of rewards

What would games be without points? In gaming, competition and achievements are two of the main ways of keeping the players playing. In a corporate environment, competition is not always the best approach, while it works well for some areas. But you can apply the concept of points and scoring on an individual basis too. Reward the learners with points for all learning activities, whether that’s comments on social platforms, participation in instructor-led training or completion of eLearning modules. You can choose the behaviours you want to reward and design the points collection accordingly.

Naturally, points work much better as a motivator if they mean something. An increasingly popular approach this kind of gamified learning is to link the learning progress into real-life rewards. Instead of just accumulating points, you could let your learners exchange them for something tangible. Potential rewards could include e.g. days off, gift cards, invitations to special events and the like. To each company its own. Concrete rewards like these are not difficult to implement and provide a very tangible method of engaging employees.

3. Applying task-based gamified learning journeys

Many successful games also have the players completing tasks or missions. Building on the two previous methods, you could also design a task-based approach to learning delivery. For example, you could push particular content at defined intervals, e.g. on a weekly basis. The “learning of the week” would be highlighted to the learner and you could also give them additional rewards for completing it – double points for instance.

This way, you have tools of guiding the learning consumption in a seamless way instead of a heavy “push” approach. Organisations could also rotate content based on real-time needs and interventions. This helps the learners to prioritise as well – they are more likely to take up on the featured content as in the hopes of an extra reward. Furthermore, this method of gamified learning helps out in the employees’ time management and allocation. Once employees have completed all the “content of the week” they can confident in their effort. All additional learning is then good extra.

Overall, gamification is a wonderful approach to increase engagement and motivation in the workplace – and not just for learning. Digital capabilities naturally help in the application, but a lot can be done with a shoestring budget or even totally offline methods. Just get creative!

Are you looking to implement gamified elements into your learning? We are happy to help you get started and support you along the way. Just drop us a note

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Learning Simulations – Driving Behavioural Change

Learning simulations featured

Using Learning Simulations in Driving Behavioural Change

In today’s hectic corporate environment, the L&D professionals need to capture and engage the learners more than ever before. There are many different ways to increase learning engagement, but learning simulations have proven to be particularly appealing. As with all learning, the goal should always be to drive behavioural change. It doesn’t matter whether you’re training people on customer service, compliance or soft skills. If there’s no behavioural effect, learning has not translated to action, hence it has become as good as nothing.

Learning simulations have proven to be effective in driving these kind of behavioural changes, i.e. making learning stick. Naturally, all simulations are not created equal. Hence, it’s important to visit the fundamentals that make your training simulations effective and engaging.

Learning Simulations Mimic Decision Making Scenarios

Over the course of our daily lives, we learn through the mistakes we make. Whenever we make decisions that backfire, we (hopefully) take a mental note and refrain from committing the same mistake twice. Simulations provide a great way to explore the different courses of actions and their effects. And it’s really all about communicating the effects of different models of behaviour. None of us work inefficiently, mistreat people or provide bad customer service intentionally. Rather, it’s often that we don’t realise the effects of our behaviour. Through well-made simulations, we can better understand the effects our own behaviour has on our stakeholders, customers and colleagues.

Learning Simulations
Simulations provide a good way to train decision making scenarios, which can be linked back to company SOPs, guidelines and the “formal” part of learning. The learner will be directed onto different paths based on their decision in the simulation. 

Taking engagement levels up with comprehensive gamification

Naturally, a simulation is generally a type of gamified learning content in itself. However, by enabling more gamification across the board, we can keep our learners more motivated and engaged. You can build simulations that don’t necessarily a single set of right answers. Rather, there could be multiple possible paths to achieve the desired outcome, but with slightly varying scores. Sticking to the most preferred methods could yield more points, whereas other viable solutions could be awarded for the effort. By enabling a competitive environment between the learners through leaderboards and alike, we keep the learners on coming back in attempts to try to increase their scores. This creates repetition which in turn affects learning retention very positively.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement of behaviour through continuous feedback

As mentioned, behavioural change should be the primary goal of the learning content. To get the best effect, we should reinforce the desired behaviour and attempt to weed out the undesired. We can do this by enabling continuous and instant feedback. Whenever our learners make the desired choices in their simulation, we should acknowledge it. Similarly, when our learners choose undesirable ways of solving the situation, we should clearly communicate them their mistake and provide explanation on why the behaviour is undesirable. Furthermore, we shouldn’t limit our feedback to just words – visualisation never hurts!

Learning simulations feedback
Our learner has chosen an undesirable type of action. We inform the learner of his mistake and explain the effect of the behaviour. Now, the learner can go back and explore alternative courses of action. Feedback is both verbal and visual. 

Overall, simulations provide powerful tools for training for many areas. However, we need to keep in mind that constant and instant feedback is absolutely critical. Without it, the simulations can easily become ineffective and irrelevant.

Are you looking to explore learning through simulations in your organisation? Feel free to contact us with your problems, we’ll be happy to help you. You can also check out our partners who provide great tools for creating different types of simulations. 


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