What We Can Learn About E-Learning, From A 5-Year Old

A guest blog post by Shaheen Sajan

Interface, home screens and gamification truly enrich the learning environment and entice the learner to learn more and more. I recently purchased Osmo Genious kit for IPad which is bundled with activities that teach children reading, mathematics and problem-solving skills. 
While I specialize in adult learning theory, every now and then I have that ‘aha’ moment when I notice certain universalities exist in terms of how both children and adults learn.  Playing Osmo with my 5-year old was one of those moments. 
When my Osmo set first arrived in the mail, the packaging looked great and I couldn’t wait to get enough memory on my iPad to start installing all the large apps that are required to play each game.  Yes, looking at the cardboard and plastic pieces that came with the set I did feel the heavy price tag for this learning tool was steep.  I was determined however to prove Steve Jobs wrong when he said he would never give his kid an iPad as it would stifle their creativity.
I was excited about the possibility of my son playing games on a tablet that enabled him to still build his fine motor skills and that his attention would not be fully fixated on a screen. 
We started with the Tangram game. He enjoyed watching the puzzles he created on the desk being mirrored onto the screen and receiving real time feedback on his success rate.  As the game unfolded, we realized there was a map on the home screen and solving each puzzle led us closer to rescuing a kidnapped figure locked in a castle tower.  We must have solved at least ten puzzles before we realized there was this gaming element to the app.  I blame the interface for not making that immediately obvious.  I observed while my son enjoyed Osmo Tangram, it was far from his favourite game in the kit. 
We proceeded to play the Word game. He guessed the letter that was missing at the start of each word and then we were done with the junior level.  It turned out there are more activities we can download but it was such a struggle getting enough space on the iPad to install the Osmo app’s I really don’t know how I am going to find more space to install these add-ons.  In a debacle of parental sacrifice, it always seems to be my app’s that get deleted when we are trying to make space for his games.We can all learn a thing or two from children. My five-year old recently taught me about the importance of gamified e-learning. Read about what I learned, here.

Gamified learning works for adults and children alike 

The prize winner by far was the Maths game.  I wouldn’t put the reason down to some stereotypes of boys excelling in mathematics or in them having a natural affinity towards it. I am a firm believer that such traits are socialized.  Simply put, he loved the maths game because it was an excellent example of gamified e-Learning.  I would go so far as to say if the elements in the Osmo maths game were replicated in an e-Learning module for adult learners, the learner would be more engaged in the course and would be more likely to retain the information they consumed.

The power of choice is very motivating

What was it that Osmo maths did that your e-Learning module should do?  First, this was the only game in the Genious Kit that enabled the learner to choose which question they wanted to answer.  Teaching is often full of a lot of assumptions that the learner does not know what the teacher is about to put before them.  While this issue can exist with young learners, it is more acutely a challenge with adult learners and can make any learner question or resent why they are being presented with something that is so unchallenging. 
Putting the user in control of the learning process is a very empowering technique.  It removes any condescending notion and any assumption that they don’t already know what you are trying to teach them.  In the case of Osmo maths, the user is fishing and they choose which fish they will try to catch based on which maths question they will answer.
The second thing that Osmo maths does well is repetition.  The learner will be asked dozens of times what combination of numbers add up to numbers like 15, 20 or 23. Of course, it is up to them if they want to answer the question but each time they do, it helps reinforce what they know and makes for better retention of the material. 
Interface can transform the learning experience

What makes all of this so enjoyable is the excellent user interface and gamified elements embedded in Osmo maths. The interface starts with a gradient ocean.  The top of the ocean has a light colour and 9 levels in which the math questions are easy.  As you start scrolling down, you find the ocean gets a bit darker and the next 9 levels also get a bit more difficult.  The further you scroll down, you see more and more depths of the ocean unfolding and you can see there will be a long journey ahead for the young learner starting with simple addition and ending with multiplication and division.
Within each level, the user has a goal, to pop bubbles containing maths questions.  There is an element of strategy involved.  Trapped above some of the bubbles, there are fish and if you manage to pop the right bubbles below them, the fish fall into the ocean at the bottom of the screen and you get to see them floating around in their natural habitat. At the end of each level, the user gets a key that unlocks the next level.  I noticed this incentive of freeing fish worked wonders at motivating my son to play Osmo maths. In fact, he spent part of his day begging to do maths. I of course used this to my advantage by getting him to eat up everything that was on his plate at dinner.  His reward was the chance to do maths, I never imagined maths can be the incentive to get a child to eat his asparagus, but this is the power of gamified learning.
It is this exact gamification of learning that will make an e-Learning project a resounding success.  You will captivate your learner and motivate them to keep learning.  Remember, an excited learner, is an active and engaged learner.  That is when the wheels are turning and the knowledge seeps deep into the brain.  Gone are the days when the passive reader skims through volumes of data out of hopes that small glimmers of knowledge enter their cerebrum. 

Five-year olds aside, make your e-learning gamified and your adult learners will thank you for it.

To find out more about how Green Key can design interactive e-Learning courses, please contact Rachel Shackleton directly at rachel@greenkeypersonaldevelopment.com

New here? Rachel writes about leadership development, communication and customer excellence, including health and well-being at work. You can read similar blogs here:

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