Tag Archives: bingel

On Gamification: Chocolate is Good and Broccoli Healthy


Are you familiar with the expression “chocolate-covered broccoli”? It basically refers to adding a layer of cool stuff to a layer of boring stuff. If you work with edtech & gamification, chances are you’ve heard of it.

Opponents of gamification have the opinion that enriching education with gamified elements is like pouring chocolate on top of broccoli and therefore not good at all.

I disagree.

Think about when you cross a street. Do you ever tend to step on the white stripes of the crosswalk—or alternatively on the spaces in between—but not on the border? Or have you ever placed bets with your friends about a hockey game on TV? How about following your pace while running and later comparing it to your other runs on a training log? Maybe spent time on selecting the best filter for your picture so that it would get attention on social media.

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you’ve gamified your life, brought some extra fun to it. In other words, you’ve covered your broccoli with some chocolate. Now my question is: why couldn’t we gamify education? (And my answer is: of course we can!)

When thinking of gamified educational materials, it is important to keep two things in mind: first, pupils/students compare them with other educational materials, not with games outside education context. Secondly, not all education should be gamified. There are several ways to Learning and gamification fits some but not all.

Avatars, levels, points, rewards, and storifying are typical features of gamification. They take nothing away from the imortance of the educational materials they are applied to, such as theory content, exercises, and tests. No, they are just there to spice up various learning situations and drive engagement.

I currently work with Bingel, a gamified environment for primary education, grades 1-6. We launched it this fall in Finland and based on the feedback we’re getting it really seems to hit the spot!

Earlier version of this post was published in Finnish on Sanoma Pro’s blog.

Flickr image CC credits: Emilien ETIENNE


Flipped Learning by Doing

Flipped learning is often associated with videos & Khan Academy. In a nutshell: the teacher instructs students/pupils to watch a video about an upcoming topic at home before coming to the class. This enables better time allocation: instead of lecturing, the teacher can wander around and give one-to-one coaching for those in need.

Learning by doing, a learning theory typically associated with the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, emphasizes the active role of the student/pupil in the learning process.

How about flipped learning by doing?

Discussing Bingel with a teacher who uses it as a flipped learning tool. Photo by Kirsi Harra-Vauhkonen.

Discussing Bingel with a teacher who uses it as a flipped learning tool, by assigning pupils Bingel-exercises of topics they have not yet gone through in the class.

I was presenting and discussing Bingel for two days straight at Educa 2016, the biggest annual learning-focused event in Finland. I found out that Bingel is also used as a flipped learning tool: teachers assign exercises of completely new topics as a homework before actually teaching them in the class.

Flipped learning approaches often combine theory content with exercises or other activities, so there is some learning by doing present. You can for example watch a video and then do a test to find out how well you digested the topic on the video. Or write an essay, contribute to a portfolio, etc.

Bingel is about exercises rather than theory content. Sometimes the exercises are accompanied by hints, but these hints are only fragments of the whole theory. In other words, using Bingel in flipped learning means that the pupils start the learning process about a new topic with the actual exercises.

This teaches them a relevant skill of rolling up sleeves and getting to work even before the needed knowledge is well structured. After some iterations of trial and error, they come to school better prepared and maybe even with some questions for the teacher.


Half a billion reasons to love bingel

John Martin, the CEO of Sanoma Learning, outlines the current status of Bingel. We are indeed just now rolling it out in Finland, starting this school year with 3rd grade mathematics and mother tongue & literature. Fall 2016 onwards, as Finland has the curriculum reform, we’ll introduce more grade levels and new subjects to Bingel. Super excited about this! Here’s me presenting Bingel last Friday in a learning games event in Helsinki:

John Richard Martin

Bingel-infographicBingel, a gamified learning platform, has become a runaway success. Since its launch by Van In in Flanders in 2011, pupils have completed more than 500 million exercises (that’s a lot, especially if you know how big Flanders is) and to mark this milestone they have created an infographic to open up some of the data around the impact of the platform.

Engagement is everything

What I really like about bingel is that pupils are motivated to use it: as with most endeavours, high motivation brings you further. 282,000 pupils at 79% of primary schools in Flanders use it. 9/10 pupls say they enjoy it whilst 9/10 teachers recommend it. Storification and gamification have made bingel attractive for pupils to use: 385 m of the 500 m exercises completed have been done at home. Now homework is fun! Interestingly, boys have done slightly more exercises than girls and I

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Bingel Spans Age Levels

On July 15th 2015, I spent a nice summer day in Pori demonstrating Bingel to random passers by. We shared a booth with our partners from Bitartic and Fantastec, as well as another Finnish edtech company Skillpixels.

Me and my colleague gathering insights from future Bingel users.

Me and my colleague gathering insights from Bingel testers.

Our event was co-located with the popular SuomiAreena, which had education as a specific topic this year. Our stand was swarming with kids trying out Bingel and giving us valuable feedback as a result. I learned something new about Bingel that day.

I already knew that one of the most important competitive advantages of Bingel is that it is carefully tailored to fit the age level and the respective curriculum. Also the visuals and stories of the Bingel world are matched with the grade level. We are going to start with 3rd grade materials after the summer, and were demonstrating only those.

My learning? I was pleasently surprised to see that kids from preschoolers to 7th graders were eager to try out our Bingel instance which only had 3rd grade materials in it. Preschoolers stuck to decorating the avatars, whereas two 7th graders competed who could answer the easy exercises faster. Sometimes we got siblings, who helped out each other.

All this is good news to me. Exact alignment with curriculum is important and reassuring to the teachers. However, having also elements and use cases spanning age levels helps in spreading the news about Bingel beyond 3rd graders & their teachers and parents. We are merely starting with the 3rd grade, but going to expand to the whole primary education.

You can find further description of Bingel (in Finnish) here.

Learning Unintentionally vs. Stopping to Learn

One way to make a distinction between learning strategies is: 1) the learner is unaware of the topics she is learning; 2) underlining the topics, making sure that the learner knows what the learning goal at hand is.

In learning games the former is well manifested in Dragonbox. Dragonbox’s value proposition is, that it “secretely teaches algebra”. The gamer can in retrospect be told about the topics she learned, but she does not need that information when playing the game. I really like Dragonbox and encourage you to try it too!

Bingel adopts the other strategy. The topics are visible and the learner literally stops for each exercise. He typically selects the answer he thinks is correct (1st click), then pushes the button saying ‘ok’ (2nd click), and finally clicks the ‘next’ button to go move forward (3rd click). A user interface designer might say that this is not a fluent design choice, that you should manage with two clicks, even one.

(I am working with Bingel now, since we are bringing it to Finland. It was originally created at VAN IN in Belgium, and lately also localized in Sweden by Sanoma Utbildning, both our sister companies at Sanoma Learning.)

I discussed this theme with experts at VAN IN. Having the learner to spend time with each exercise is indeed on purpose. It forces to stop to reflect the answer. So in this case the didactical principles override the common design principles such as the fewer the clicks in a user interface the better.

Bingel lets the learner be in control at all times. That is why he first selects the answer, then has time to consider whether it was right or not before pressing ‘ok’. Then comes the feedback, where the learner’s own avatar appears to tell whether he got it right or not. In the case of a wrong answer, the avatar can also give hints on solving the exercise.

Having the learner to be in control of the pace he moves on is good for his working memory*. It also helps in cases where more than one learner are jointly solving exercises. They can discuss their candidate answers and the feedback before moving on.

* Check a research paper on this topic [PDF].

Gamification and Storyfication: It’s the Little Things

I saw a wonderful presentation by my Belgian Sanoma Learning colleagues earlier this week. At Van In they offer a service called Bingel, which essentially is an online exercise platform for primary education, kids aged 6-11.

Bingel island

Normally Bingel has a beautiful user interface of an island floating in the clouds. However, on October 17th 2013, a story started to unfold. First a panel appeared counting down the days until November 7th. An then, the mountain on the island erupted as a volcano, spitting red lava in the sky.

Bingel users were then encouraged to collect sand in order to make the volcano to settle down. And how to collect sand? You guessed it, by completing exercises. As a result, during the following week Belgian children did three times more exercises than normally during that November week. By now the volcano has calmed down, but the story is still developing…

These little things are what build up gamification. You take your normal routine activities and bring in some extra spices. Think of Google Doodles. Although they have become more complex through the years, they are still somewhat small things bringing temporary delight to information searchers.

These small gamification elements have to tap into users’ emotions in order to work. The Bingel volcano eruption caused some suspense no doubt, as well as joy in the end when enough sand had been collected.