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What my kids teach me about elearning design

Articulate Games Skylanders and Frozen


I reflected (or, more accurately, quipped) recently on social media about the benefits of being a learning designer for dads, as a follow up to the sharing of an elearning game I rapidly tossed together on a public holiday.

It was a quick sight words activity designed to help my 5-year-old daughter develop her reading skills, drawing on her passionate interest in the movie Frozen (and in particular her admiration for Princess Elsa and the song 'Let it Go!'). You can access the web version of the Frozen Sight Words game here.

This isn't the first interactive, media-rich game I've thrown together for my kids (my son, being a little older than his sister, has been lucky enough to get a few different customised Skylanders-themed games developed for him - one of which he did all the writing, image sourcing and audio-recording for and then blew his classmates away by presenting it at school for show and tell!). And, based on the fact that these applications were put together very rapidly (usually on a Sunday or holiday), in many ways I wouldn't be willing to say they represent my best work. The animations and media aren't always as high quality, smooth and as consistent as I would like, for example.

But then again, in other (perhaps more important) ways, these sample games for the kids may actually be some of my best work. I got to thinking about this recently, and here's why these quick home-grown elearning applications may have a lot more going for them than say the glossy, highly developed elearning activities I've developed as part of formal employment duties.

1. It knows its audience

You (hopefully) know your kids better than most other people in your life, and you know what makes them tick. Using themes like favourite console games and recent movies, the learning games are customised to their specific passions and they can't wait to try them.

2. It's rapid

Developed in less than a day, utilising media and themes popular this month, addressing learning needs and existing skills evaluated this week.

3. It's iterative

These applications are rapidly prototyped and tested and redeveloped several times in the course of a day or two. It's amazing what you can fix or add with such rapid here-and-now iteration.

4. It's personal

That might seem obvious in a game designed for a specific person - how can it not be highly personalised? And how could commercial, scalable elearning activities for large, diverse audiences hope to complete with that? Well, for the scalability factor (in terms of appeal), remember also that potentially (see next...)

5. It's social

What appealed to my son, and was developed personally for and with him, was a huge hit with his entire class. He not only promoted it to his 'network', based on their relationship with him they wanted to see and be a part of it as well. The Princess Elsa application also went slightly ballistic in a networked sense, using my social media circles. Via Facebook, Linked In and Twitter, it was surprising how many of my contacts jumped on the game and thought it would be great for a little girl (or little girls) in their lives.

6. Scores and grades don't matter

Take away the extrinsic motivational factors like getting a pass or a grade and it's quite interesting to see what makes a learner 'tick' and want to continue with an activity. It's also interesting to consider how much harder you have to think, plan and execute as a learning designer. In the case of the Princess Elsa game above, my daughter was caught up in the initial theme, but it was the gradual unlayering of a semi-secret (as in, she knew what it would be, but couldn't quite see it and desperately wanted to see it!) background picture that kept her guessing at each round of sight word prompts. The video of the theme song at the end was an unexpected but hugely satisfying reward for her. She wanted to play the game again, and again.

"Correction does much, but encouragement does more. Goethe"

If you've followed the links above to the Skylanders and Frozen/Princess Elsa games, I'll bet more than a few of you will have thought one or more of the following:

- The microphone/recording quality could do with some improvement (bear in mind for the Skylanders game that my 6-year-old son at the time had no front teeth - an interesting challenge for any microphone!)

- Some of the question animations and formats are too monotonous

- It needs a lot more editing before I'd release this publicly

Hey, I know. Those were exactly my initial criticisms/concerns as well - as someone who 'does' the elearning thing for a living.

What's hopefully more than a little intriguing is that those criticisms haven't even remotely occured to my kids and their respective peer networks. They're too engaged to care.

That doesn't mean those sorts of issues ought to be overlooked or glossed over in professional elearning production. But it should prompt us to consider what really matters when it comes to genuinely effective elearning design.

I'm just thankful that, as a learning designer, I have such fabulous teachers right here at home!



If you like to learn more about EFL news you might check out http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/teaching-english/. It has infinite source of wonderful ideas to explore. I'd really enjoy to see your ideas on the topic when you've got things to share. Leave a comment whenever you fancy.

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