Your Brain on eLearning: Dopamine and the Hippocampus

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braincogsDopamine was first discovered in 1950! Since then, neuroscience has come such a long way.

What in the past could not be explained or monitored can now be viewed through brain scans and neuroimaging. Previously incredible phenomena are now explained by neural pathways, neurotransmitters and synaptic surges.

Take learning, for instance. We now know the processes involved in making learning stick in our minds. For instance, the hippocampus – located in the lower section of the brain – controls memories of learning (Foerde & Shohamy, 2011). The stronger the hippocampal activation during learning, the more we will remember the content and be able to recall the information at a later date.

Neuroscience also shows us what can happen when these processes are unable to function: a 1957 study of patient H.M. revealed that damage to the hippocampus and surrounding areas led to a severe impairment in the ability to form new memories for facts and events (Scoville & Milner, 1957). Interesting, though, H.M. and patients like him could still learn new procedures and habits, so long as they were acquired gradually, such as playing the piano.

So when it comes to learning specific facts and tactics during training programmes at work, the hippocampus is pretty essential. But it’s not the only mechanism that impacts on learning and memory.

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BrainResearch in neuroscience also tell us how important dopamine is in learning processes.

Numerous studies (e.g. Fiorillo, Tobler, & Schultz, 2003; Schultz, Apicella, & Ljungberg, 1993; Waelti, Dickinson, & Schultz, 2001) show that dopamine is critical in learning to predict rewarding outcomes and working to obtain them.

Basically, when we get an unexpected reward, dopamine neurons begin firing. If we’re rewarded enough for a specific action, the dopamine response shifts to occur immediately following the action for which we gain the reward, rather than when we receive the reward itself.

You can see how this impacts on learning – if we’re regularly rewarded for undertaking an eLearning module, for instance, we’ll soon learn to associate eLearning with a pleasant feeling (dopamine is known as the feel-good hormone, after all). We’ll then be more receptive to taking eLearning units in the future, because doing so makes us feel good.

That’s why we make sure to reward learners on the Academy LMS by utilising lots of cool gamification functionality. Gamification – the application of gaming mechanics and metaphors, like points, badges and leaderboards, to non-game scenarios – makes difficult or boring tasks like learning tricky subjects much more enjoyable and motivates us to pursue training whole-heartedly.

If this was a bit heavy-going for you, don’t worry! Just download the free white paper below to find out exactly how to engage your learners in their training – you’ll find tips and tricks there that you can start implementing right away!

Download Your Mobile Learning Tip Sheet


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