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4 Psychology Principles To Leverage In Mobile Apps To Make Learning Fun


Today’s youth is in the centre of an unplanned, extensive experiment, surrounded by digital technologies that were hardly around a decade ago. Mobile apps are at the very apex of this boom and educational mobile apps are spearheading the current learning revolution. 

According to a statista report, educational apps are the third most popular app category on the app store as of November 2019. These account for a 8.68% share of all apps in the market. 

However, not all apps are created equal. Some end up surpassing all parameters of success while others fail miserably at the app store. 

A number of small elements come together to decide why people may or may not fancy your app. Most of these details are subconscious. 

Leveraging psychology principles when designing your educational mobile apps offers promising results by making learning fun and engaging.  Studying these elements is vital for making your mobile app appealing to the subconscious of your targeted user  group.

Here are four psychology principles that can be leveraged in mobile apps to make learning fun for students:

1. The Zeigarnik Effect

According to the Zeigarnik effect, people remember interrupted or uncompleted tasks better than the ones that they complete. This phenomenon greatly impacts motivation and when applied accurately, can promote in-app flow by both providing feedback on user’s progress and making the goals more clear.

Displaying learning objectives with the amount of progress made is a fantastic way of implementing the Zeigarnik effect when creating an educational mobile app.

One option is to incorporate a section within the app which the users can refer to and check back on their progress. This causes the learner to voluntarily keep a tab of their progress. The visibility of incomplete tasks is going to be the trigger that keeps the learner checking back in with objectives and actively progressing through the module.

Another option is to present the learner with a daily challenge or quest to complete. The design of these challenges needs to create feelings of association. If the display shows that some reward unlocks after completion, for example, new areas of the module get unlocked after completion of a certain objective, it gives the learner an added incentive. With simple changes to the look, feel and placement of objectives, it is possible to have the same effect on the learner.

2. Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement was introduced by B.F. Skinner in relation to the theory of operant conditioning. It is that form of learning whereby the contingency between a desirable consequence and a specific behavior helps increase the probability of the behavior recurring.

The motive of positive reinforcement is to provide motivation for students to repeat desired behaviors. In other words, by providing students with a positive outcome when they display certain behaviors or accomplish achievements, students are persuaded to do so again.

There are a number of ways you can incorporate positive reinforcement into your mobile apps. Here are few tips you can use to encourage positive learning behaviors:

  • Design eLearning activities that focus on improvement and progress.
    Your learners should always be aware of the fact that you aren’t asking for perfection, just for them to do their very best. This is why it’s so important to focus on developments and the progress they have made while you are presenting the positive reinforcement.

Let them know how far they’ve come since the beginning of the module, or praise them for rectifying a certain action and state how they have shown improvement. You can also encourage them to set goals while doing this by providing feedback on how they can strengthen the behavior in the future or develop necessary skill sets.

  • Recognize top learners by integrating reward systems or leaderboards.
    Human beings are competitive by nature. Even those of us who don’t think of ourselves very competitively are driven by the fact that we outshine others in a particular subject. This is where rewards systems and leaderboards come into the picture. 

Not only can learners earn rewards when they display favorable behaviors, but they can also be presented with the appreciation they are seeking. The key to this, however, is that learners should not be performing the behavior just for the sake of earning a tangible reward or avoiding a negative consequence. Ideally, the reward should just be a secondary source of motivation.

3. The Forgetting Curve Theory

Hermann Ebbinghaus theorized that the human brain tends to forget information it has recently acquired if that information is not put into practice. The longer we wait to apply this acquired knowledge, the less we remember it.

According to Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve, learners will have forgotten an average of 90% of what they have learned within the first month itself. In order to avoid encumbering students’ memories, it's important to keep learning sessions as short as possible, and to offer follow-up learning experiences. Learning must also be disbursed over time. 

So then, how can this theory be leveraged within mobile apps? The golden words here happen to be ‘Push notifications’. 

A new data science report found that push notifications containing personalized content see four times the open rate of generic messages. Indeed, it is recommended you use segmentation and customize messages to suit the needs of every individual student. This allows you to build different content strategies according to the learning phase in which every student is.

For instance, you can embed a personalized message within a push notification that keeps popping after frequent intervals to remind a student about the incomplete tasks or lessons he/she needs to complete as per the daily goals they set up for themselves.

Another effective way of preventing cognitive overload on students and making the learning experience truly enjoyable is using flashcards within the mobile app. Flashcards should preferably present before learners key pieces of information that can aid them achieve their learning goals. 

Also, If you give learners the opportunity to create their own collection of flashcards, they are more likely to absorb and retain the information. This is primarily due to the fact that the creation process itself leads to knowledge acquisition and helps to move the information to the long term memory of your learners.

The notion that people have beneficial effects on one another is not a new one, but only recently have scientists become acquainted with the magnitude of these effects. 

Observational learning is learning that occurs through observing the behavior of others. It is a form of social learning which takes various forms, based on various processes. In humans, this form of learning seems to not need reinforcement to occur, but instead, requires a social model such as a parent, sibling, friend, or teacher with surroundings. 

When it comes to your mobile app, interaction is the key. This simply implies that you need to be consistent with support and availability for your app users. Constant support—in the form of email communication, in-app messages, notifications, etc.—may help students feel more comfortable and less stressed.

Peer support is an important component of student- centered care. A chat integrated into a mobile app focused on supporting students can be a useful tool for those who are in the process of learning or preparing for examinations, by offering social support and a space to share information, concerns, or strategies.

Recently, a surge has been observed around the idea that gamification can be implemented as a method for providing interactive and exciting content to learners through mobile apps. “Gamification can help enrich educational experiences in a way that students will recognize and respond to,” said Elizabeth Lawley, a professor of interactive games and media at the Rochester Institute of Technology. One can easily create a user-friendly, engaging, and addictive educational gaming mobile app to harness creative learning to the maximum.

Apart from these features, other ways such as presenting students with updates on where their peers stand academically and assigning tabs that show encouragement toward an individual, can help utilize observational learning within mobile apps to make learning a joyous experience rather than the usual exhausting one.

Tap into the Subconscious

Successfully dispensing these psychology principles to your mobile app may help you tap into the user’s psyche and draw them in without them even noticing. This is one of the foremost secrets of success for many advertisers and brands, mobile or otherwise. If you’ve developed your educational mobile app with these principles in mind, you can rest assured and make learning a rather fun experience!



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