Training & Learning

The Link Between Dopamine and Learning Outcomes: What Does it Mean for Business?

In our series of articles examining the science behind learning, we’ve uncovered that human interaction is key to learning. But does it play a role in how excited we are about learning?

New research suggests that dopamine, the chemical which controls pleasure and memory in the brain, can be used to hijack motivation and increase attention spans among learners – and when used correctly, it can even make your learning courses addicting.

You might have heard that positive reinforcement is the secret to conditioning someone’s behavior, but what is it about this type of encouragement that is so darn effective? It all comes down to one thing: dopamine.

In this article, we’ll discuss the critical role this chemical plays in all learning, including collaborative learning within your business.

Hijack learning KPIs ebook cover | 360Learning

Get 5 brain hacks to drive learner engagement 🧠

What is dopamine, and why does it matter?

Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that controls reward-motivated behavior, as in behaviors that we do with anticipation of an expected reward.

Over time, a positive reward associated with an action strengthens the desire to undertake that behavior. This means positive reinforcement can train a person to expect a “reward” when they complete a certain behavior, and consequently, create motivation.

Sounds simple enough, right? But how does this positive reinforcement work in practice?

Believe it or not, positive reinforcement in the form of words of encouragement, the feeling of pride when getting an answer correct, and social praise are all dopamine triggers, powerful enough to motivate anyone to learn.

How important is motivation when it comes to learning

Dopamine has the power to create motivation, but what effect does it have on actually learning said information?

Well, a recent study has proven that dopamine does more than just create excitement about learning: it actually controls learning retention.

In the study, The Role of Dopamine in Learning, Memory, and Performance of a Water Escape Task, researchers tested mice injected with dopamine to determine how big a role this special chemical plays in the learning process.

The team used a group of dopamine-deficient mice and injected half of them with dopamine and half with nothing, before having them perform a series of tasks. As you might have guessed, the group injected with dopamine succeeded at learning the task with flying colors, but the second group showed a different result.

The dopamine deficient group was able to learn the task but only after several tries and with much lower performance rates than the group injected with dopamine. The analysis concluded that learning when dopamine is not present inhibits comprehension due to the lack of motivation and memory.

What can this study tell us about learning, exactly?

When we examine the results from the mice study, we can draw two important conclusions:

First, when dopamine is not present during the learning process, a person’s performance will suffer due to the lack of motivation (ie. engagement).

  • First, when dopamine is not present during the learning process, a person’s performance will suffer due to the lack of motivation (ie. engagement).
  • Second, because dopamine is linked to memory, it triggers the brain to remember the action/material (ie. retention). Translation? Dopamine = engagement + retention.

This information suggests that engagement isn’t just a “nice-to-have” when it comes to learning, it’s practically necessary.

This makes it crucial to find ways to stimulate the release of dopamine in your collaborative learning processes.

Lucky for you, there are several easy ways to create dopamine-driven motivation in your collaborative learning.

Dopamine: Your secret weapon for learning success

If your goal is to motivate your trainees to not only learn something but to be excited about learning it, then you need to focus on human interaction.

Dopamine is a powerful chemical, and can even be addictive. And finding ways to stimulate that sweet feeling of reward during collaborative learning is your sure-fire way to generate motivation and engagement.

The most effective way to trigger the response? Through human interaction: encouragement, positive feedback, peer recognition, and opportunities to shine. It’s as simple as implementing activities such as group discussion, quizzes, recognition, and feedback.

You can try adding these features to your learning program with a free trial of our collaborative learning platform. Each time your learner gets a question right or hears words of affirmation, you’re stimulating the release of dopamine and ensuring your course is both engaging and memorable.

If you are able to create a positive experience within learning, not only will the material be retained, but your learner will feel intrinsically motivated to seek out and replicate the feeling – aka, continue learning.

Better learning through science

Knowing how the brain works and reacts in these functions allows us to manipulate our instincts in order to achieve the results we want. This is psychological hacking in its finest form, and it’s crucial to learning outcomes for your business.

360Learning is the first collaborative learning platform designed to empower experts at scale. Discover a world where experts publish new courses every day, employees are engaged, and learning becomes the new normal.

Want to check this out for yourself? Sign up for a free trial and give it a try today.

Book your 360Learning demo now

  • A 30-minute overview of the platform

  • 100% tailored to your needs - with ❤️

  • No commitment. Free as can be.