Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Learning as risk, exploration and reward

The June issue of National Geographic carries an article on risk taking. It looks at explorers, photographers and our ancestors who walked out of Africa and suggests that dopamine, and not adrenaline is what drives risk takers. Adrenaline may help us in fight or flight situations, but for gutting it out over the longer term, dopamine is what helps us through.

Psychology Today defines dopamine as

"a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. Dopamine deficiency results in Parkinson's Disease, and people with low dopamine activity may be more prone to addiction. The presence of a certain kind of dopamine receptor is also associated with sensation-seeking."

So dopamine plays a role in rewards. This made me think of the risks we take in education. We risk looking foolish (e.g. answering questions wrongly or asking questions others may perceive as stupid), we risk having our world views or ways of doing challenged, we risk discovering we are not as smart, capable or wise as we thought. So does dopamine play a role in education? I think it can, and more so perhaps if learning experiences are gamified with clear rewards beyond the certificate or degree at the end.

With regular rewards, clear goals, etc, there might be more pleasure for students in their learning. By analogy with explorers, if students feel they are navigating new and exciting territory, this too may help them (if they need this help) to see learning as a voyage of discovery.

I'm looking forward to our local Moodle installation moving to 2.5 and playing with badges!

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