When you play a video game, your body releases endogenous morphine, commonly known as endorphins. Endorphins are produced during the game as a response to certain stimuli, the same way they would during exercise, excitement, pain, love, or even when you’re eating spicy food.

Endorphins are powerful; they resemble the opiates (such as heroin or morphine) in their ability to produce analgesia (the inability to feel pain) and also a feeling of well-being. This is key to maximizing the potential of endorphins in online training—through gamification. Endorphins are neurotransmitters, chemicals that pass along signals from one neuron to the next. That rush of excitement, success, and accomplishment you feel when playing a video game is similar to a runner’s high—and both are a result of endorphins.

Today, eLearning developers are taking advantage of endorphins by adding games to their online training courses to promote motivation and success, during training and later in on-the-job performance. Games have been around for hundreds of years, but gamification has recently become a popular trend in the eLearning industry—with good reason.

“When designed correctly, gamification has proven to be very successful in engaging people and motivating them to change behaviors, develop skills, or solve problems,” notes Gartner industry analyst Brian Burke in Forbes magazine. Well-designed gamification can have a huge impact, especially if eLearning developers take advantage of endorphins. Follow these best practices for using games to create behavior-changing, successful, eLearning courses:

Apply the game to a real-life scenario

The endorphins produced during a game can improve memory, which has a positive effect on learning. Adding a scenario-based game to your eLearning course puts the learner in the role of the problem solver. In addition, the production of endorphins will improve your learner’s memory. This increases your learner’s chances of success later when he or she must perform a similar task in real life, the workplace.

Include checkpoints throughout the game

Your body releases endorphins at each milestone or checkpoint in the game, according to research firm Gartner. Checkpoints also serve as assessment points to get feedback on how your learners are doing, but you can award your learners with badges and trophies at these checkpoints. The rewards stimulate endorphins and motivate your learners to complete the game. The endorphins peak at a final reward—the end of the game—promoting those addictive feelings of well-being and success.

Facilitate teamwork among your employees

If you’re doing team training, managers must play on their employees’ teams, so everyone is working towards the same goal and supporting each other in the journey to success. Gamification should strengthen the team; it should not create a hero versus villain competition, where the manager takes the role of the villain. You don’t want your employees’ bodies producing endorphins from accomplishment against their managers, thus creating low morale and an overall negative attitude toward higher management.

Encourage autonomy in the game

Autonomy is a core psychological need for humans, according to experts at the University of Rochester. Meeting the psychological need of autonomy releases endorphins—something to consider when designing an eLearning game. Gamification expert Karl Kapp says, “People are better learners when they can make their own decisions related to learning… This is the concept of autonomy. Good gamification environments allow the leaner to make decisions about what to learn next and what areas of interest to pursue.” Even if your game is meant for a team of employees, you can still encourage autonomy by allowing your learner to make choices.

Take advantage of the powerful role of endorphins when you’re creating an eLearning game. Endorphin stimulations aren’t limited to a marathon or some spicy chicken tikka masala. When your learners are producing endorphins during your eLearning game, they’re learning better and remembering more—which leads to improved job performance and success.


Burke, Brian. “The Gamification of Business.” Forbes. 21 January 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/gartnergroup/2013/01/21/the-gamification-of-business/