Epic Meaning for Epic Learning


‘Unleash your inner superhero!’ is a slogan I hear throughout the online learning sphere. I get it, Marvel has dominated the box office for the past decade and with all those Supers, Mutants, Avengers, and Guardians running around it makes us want to join them on their Quest to protect the galaxy, and rid the world of evildoers. But the average Jo does not (unfortunately) have a giant S under his/her business shirt. However, what they do have, and I would argue is just as powerful, is the desire for Epic Meaning in their life.

Epic Meaning is one of the core driver’s in Octalysis, a gamification framework developed by Yo-kai Chou. Basically, the drive is when a person believes they are doing something for the greater good, aiding a cause that is bigger than just them, or believe they were ‘chosen’ for this specific quest. You would be surprised how motivating this drive can be.

This drive of Epic Meaning combines with the Self Determination Theory (SDT) quite nicely. SDT is a framework that looks at interplay between both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators, as well as social and cultural factors that play a roll in a person’s motivation. Motivation, there is a buzzword that I also hear all the time. How do we motivate our customer’s? How do we motivate our employees? How do we motivate our kids? How do we motivate ourselves? There are many ways humans try to motivate one another: evaluations, grades, leader-boards, rewards systems. Hell, I’m trying to motivate my 2 year old to use the toilet by using a Candyland style game board where she get prizes every so often and by the end she will earn the coveted and prized, Rapunzel Princess Dress. Now as alluring as this prize sounds, it’s not actually the thing that drives her. When she actually goes into the bathroom and uses the toilet, she will come out and exclaim, “Mom, I went all by myself, just like Daniel Tiger!’ Daniel Tiger (my savior) has given Epic Meaning to using the toilet by attaching great value to doing it “all by myself.”

When we can attach Epic Meaning to a task, it can evoke passion, ambition, curiosity, and creativity. Intrinsic motivation fueled by this core driver will sustain a person as he/she works through complicated tasks. Games elegantly weave Epic Meaning into even the most mundane quests. I can remember the grind in World of Warcraft through many levels, just so that I would be good enough to run dungeons with our group of friends. The Epic Meaning for me was not in being a WOW hero or having the highest level, it was belonging to and contributing to our group of friends during game play. My husband was the tank in our group, basically he would taunt all the enemies while the other group members did damage to the enemies or the healers healed everyone. He took great pride and epic meaning from being the front line of the group. We were both willing to spend countless hours honing our skills, crafting special items, and questing to gain levels all so we could adventure, run dungeons and raid with our group. Epic Meaning doesn’t have to be huge, or saving the world, it can be as simple as being there for another person or a group of friends who rely on you.

It’s fun to say, ‘Unleash your Potential, Inner Superhero or Super Power’ and attach it to a cute meme. But does this actually accomplish your anything?  Epic meaning must be purposefully built with very intentional outcomes defined. So how can you actually build Epic Meaning into trainings, games or other tasks at hand?

The ABC’s for creating Epic Meaning

A - Accountability:

The participant needs to understand that their role is vital to the success of the mission. They must also be held accountable for their actions.This does create pressure and a level of stress, so make sure they are capable of filling the role for the tasks at hand.

B - Big Picture:

The participants need to see and understand the big picture and how their role is important, nay crucial to a successful outcome. When people really grasp the ultimate goal and they see all the smaller goals leading up to it, they can more fully commit to the cause. It also makes all the smaller milestones mean more when they achieve them.

C - Challenge:

Participants need to be challenged. When employees go to work and are bored they are usually unsatisfied. If Gamers are bored they switch games. Challenge strengths and promotes growth on many levels.

Employing these 3 ideas into will infuse Epic Meaning into your content. You may be thinking that perhaps I have forgotten rewards. No, I left that part out on purpose. If the ABC’s are implemented in a compelling way, the participants will hopefully be intrinsically motivated and excited to complete the task. That being said, everyone loves rewards, so don’t be stingy. Even if the reward is simply praise for job well done, rain it down upon your victorious colleagues.

So go ahead, create some epic learning through epic meaning, and lead your employees to an epic victory!

Author: Erin Fair, Level Up Your Learning