If you own a smartphone, then chances are that you’ve downloaded a “brain training” app: Meant to improve the way your brain functions, these sneaky games are designed to affect processes like memory, problem-solving skills and even processing speed. But brain training games like LumosityElevate and Brain Workshop might be more than just a way to kill time, especially when applied to training applications. Understand how and why they work and you might be able to unlock a new realm of engagement in your custom eLearning design projects.

Brain Games for Learning

Research the effects of brain training and you’ll get a pretty mixed bag of opinions. But whether or not it’ll make you smarter isn’t really the argument, here: It’s whether or not brain training can actually create more effective learners.

There are a few characteristics that are shared among brain training apps and games that, when translated to eLearning projects, can create a cognitive learning atmosphere that is unequivocally more effective than flat initiatives. Regardless of what you think about brain training, it highlights psychological phenomenon that can make for more effective eLearning efforts.

The Psychology of Brain Training

If you’ll look closely, you’ll find that most brain training games and apps utilize the same techniques for improving cognition and thought process. That’s because they rely on certain theories about the characteristics of the brain and how it works. Consider how the following concepts could enhance eLearning as a whole:

  • Mirror neurons. The brain contains a type of brain cell, called mirror neurons, that make it virtually incapable of distinguishing between watching something happen to someone and experiencing the same thing personally. It’s why you automatically cringe when you see someone get hurt; your brain reacts as though you’re experiencing the pain. When applied to an eLearning atmosphere, it could mean that situational examples and visual media (especially when experienced again and again in a game-like setting) can be just as effective as experiencing that situation personally.
  • Instant gratification. We all know about endorphins: They’re the feel-good hormones that flood your brain when you’re happy or stimulated. Brain training games appeal to the part of human nature that wants to be immediately rewarded for effort. Using points, achievements or even completion percentages can help learners experience that same instant gratification, so they don’t have to wait to see the fruits of their labor.
  • Those cute characters and silly animations? They’re not as superfluous as you think. Brain training games appeal to a brain process known as “primal aesthetic sense.” When situations and visual stimuli are overly exaggerated, it engages the visual area of the brain and results in improved engagement and memory. By adding a little dramatic flair and focusing on exaggerated media, it’s possible that learners could absorb information more effectively.

Brain training apps might just seem like a harmless bit of fun and a way to stretch your memory and focus, but they can also provide a lesson in engaging eLearning. By utilizing some of the lessons learned from the theories behind these games and apps, you could be on the cusp of truly cognitive learning.