How should we incentivize learning? An optimal feedback mechanism for educational games and online courses

AbstractThere are plenty of opportunities for life-long learning but people rarely seize them. Game elements are an increasingly popular tool to keep students engaged in learning. But gamification only works when it is done properly. Here, we introduce the first principled approach to gamifying learning environments. Our feedback mechanism rewards students' efforts and study choices according to how beneficial they are in the long run. The rewards are conveyed by game elements that we call ``optimal brain points''. In our experiment, these optimal brain points significantly increased the proportion of participants who attempted to learn a difficult skill, persisted through failure, and succeeded to master it. Our method provides a principled approach to designing incentive structures and feedback mechanisms for both educational games and online courses. We are optimistic that this can help people overcome the motivational obstacles to self-directed life-long learning.


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