The needs and motivation of a user on your digital product like a learning platform or a serious game will change while using it for a certain amount of time. While your user is evolving in the digital product, it should offer new content, functionalities and challenges. To design these different layers of your product, it is important to understand which phases your user will go through. This user evolution can be structured in 5 steps:
1) First contact
This first phase is basically like a first impression while dating. Do you remember the first time you met your boyfriend or your girlfriend? Most probably you had a good first impression of that person in terms of outer appearance and the first sentences this person said. You probably knew (even if it was in your subconscious) if you want to date him/her or not. This first impression is very similar to the first contact your user has with your digital product. Does it feel right? Does it look good and fulfills my needs?
In the first phase you have to convince your user of your product and furthermore clearly communicate the added value of your product.
If the user is not convinced that spending time with your product pays off, the she/he will drop out.
Focus on: appearance and communication of the added value.
The second phase your user will go through takes place when she/he decided to give your product a chance. This could be directly after the registration on your platform or after downloading your game. Now it is very important not to overtax the user. It needs to have a quick overview about the basic functionalities and how she/he can reach out to their target, meaning the added value why using this digital product. Just give a very limited set of functionalities to make your user feel in control and not feel dumb.
If possible, try to implement a tutorial. This tutorial shouldn't be like a document to read. Use a more clever design and take your user by the hand, guide her/him through the first actions on the platform. For inspirations of good tutorials: check out modern computer games - they instruct you how to play the game without recognizing it. But that's another topic.
In this phase, direct positive feedback is very useful as well. Show your user that she/he is acting in the right way through the use of extrinsic rewards and visible, positive acknowledgment.
Focus on: Orientation and extrinsic rewards.
3) Structured Repetition
Once your user knows about the basic functionalities, you need to decrease the anxiousness and uncertainty. You can achieve this through constant repetition of an activity. Offer your content in a structured way that makes it very easy for your user to follow. At the same time, this doesn't mean that the tasks have to be easy! It is just important that the question mark on top of your users head is gone and that she/he can focus on the content.
Furthermore, social interaction can lead to higher motivation, especially in this phase. If possible, try to implement some basic interactions between your users like sharing, liking, rating as well as more complex interactions like competition or collaboration. Especially in collaboration you can think of different roles, so your user will be appreciated by using her/his strengths. This will fill your community with life, while you design a comfortable pattern of action for your user.
Focus on: Structure and social interaction.
After the phase of constant repitition, your user should be aware of all the functionalities your product can offer. Your user could be now a proactive user on your platform or a hardcore gamer. Now there are three possibilities how to keep her/him motivated.
The first one is improving the product itself. To keep your users on board, provide regular updates and content from your side.
The second one is mastery. Make it very hard or even impossible to master your product. Think of a very complex strategy boardgame, cardgame or a computer game like Dota 2. It offers almost limitless strategies and gives the user the possibility to establish an own style within the system.
The third one is access to limited ressources. Think of the "Senator"-status of miles and more, which combines this access to specific goodies with the possibility to show off through status. In your online platform you can unlock specific user rights, give them access to restricted content and reward them for their activity. Let them show their status and achievements. This also works for your user that are not keen on showing off. You can make them a moderator or mentor and let them help new users to get oriented on your platform - make it a win - win - win situation.
Focus on: Updates, mastery and access.
If your user reach this final phase of motivation, then your are doing it right. These users are fans and multipliers of your product, usually went through all the phases of motivation and know your system by heart.
At the same time, give them the space and possibility to become creative in your environment. Some cardgames (like Dominion or Codenames) just offer some blanko cards, so the user can realize her/his own idea within the rules of this game. Some boardgames (like Andor or the old but gold Hero Quest) give you the possibility to create your own stories within the game. Of course you can transform this into digital platforms, like giving your user the possibilty to create own courses and unleash their creativity on your platform.
These users are very valuable, so even if they are low in quantity they have the power to improve the quality of your system a lot.
Focus on: Space for creativity.