Tag Archives: game

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].


Mobile Games to Enrich Primary School Materials

I am super excited about the two new mobile games to enrich Sanoma Pro’s existing materials. Both collaborations are graduates of the EnhancEDU startup program.

The first of them, Ihmepupu* (in English Wonderbunny), is a mathematics game where a rabbit dashes trough colorful scenes while completing exercises. The other one is called Peikkoleiri* (Goblin Camp). It is a Finnish grammar game for natives, where the goblin has to prove knowledge of spelling, compound words, etc. in order to advance.

Both games are in Finnish and for Finnish pupils (although there is a common core aligned version of Wonderbunny in English). They are based on Sanoma Pro’s Finnish K-12 curriculum aligned content. Ihmepupu follows the structure of the Kymppi method, whereas Peikkoleiri is based on our Välkky method.

Currently Ihmepupu is for 1st graders and Peikkoleiri for 3rd graders, but both are looking for rolling out new also grade levels. At least Fantastec, the creator of Ihmepupu, is planning to launch also 2nd and 3rd grade games still during the spring of 2015.

Check out the introduction videos of these two fine games, and find the download links for both below (for Android and iOS, respectively). Enjoy!

Välkky 3 Peikkoleiri

Android, Google Play

iOS, App Store


Kymppi – Ihmepupun kuntorata

Android, Google Play

iOS, App Store

* Complete names for the games: Kymppi – Ihmepupun kuntorata and Välkky 3 Peikkoleiri.

Don’t Expect Any Educational Games From #SXSW Gaming Expo

I stayed for one extra day in Austin after SXSWedu ended. Four days of sitting down watching presentations made me want to just walk around the town. I also visited the SXSW Gaming Expo, hoping to score some educational games there.

Boy was I wrong. There was all sorts of cool games and playing going on, with virtual reality headsets and the like. But I couldn’t find anything related to learning. Well, there was one game, a Kickstarer-funded project called Classroom Aquatic. But I wouldn’t exactly call it a learning game. Take a look at the trailer so you see what I mean:

Avoid teacher’s and students’ gaze, look at other students’ papers to get answers, and throw erasers at people. Fun stuff for sure, but not quite what I was looking for.

Visiting the expo strengthened my assumption of education and hard-core gaming are still worlds apart. However, that doesn’t mean gaming wouldn’t have anything to give to education. Various elements can be extracted from games and used to gamify educational content, storylines and game characters can be reused, and innovative interaction mechanisms utilized.

It might be virtual reality headsets are entering the classrooms in the years to come.

Small Educational Games Can Lead to a Big One

On Monday March 3rd, Amplify announced two things at SXSWedu: cooperation with Intel on tablets aimed at school usage, and a new curriculum discarding the notion of a book altogether (also digital book). When Larry Berger, the Learning President at Amplify was presenting their new curriculum called ELA, he also mentioned and briefly showed some premium educational games they are rolling out.


The games are aimed solely at outside classroom usage. Amplify has the goal of getting children to spend three times as much time on reading and writing as they currently do. This time cannot come from school hours, so they try to introduce attractive games to get kids read & write at their spare time.

So they are entering the cutthroat business of gaming, where only very few make it big time. This is very different from providing curriculum-related educational materials and solutions. Being owned by News Corp might help them in entering this market, but it is nevertheless a new ballgame.

Today I listened to a wonderful panel chaired by Esteban Sosnik from CO.LAB, and including PJ Gunsagar from Kidaptive, Jacob Klein from Motion Math, and Sooinn Lee from LocoMotive Labs. At one point the panelists were discussing the approaches of creating small independent learning games versus making the whole school experience a game. Candy Crush Saga on one end of the axis, and World of Warcraft on the other.

Amplify is clearly taking the WoW approach, creating whole virtual worlds for children to learn. Typically these two extreme approaches (as well as the shades in between) are seen as alternatives. How about considering them as a pathway instead, or a journey?

The journey would start with small games and light gamification, adding more along the way. This way students (and teachers!) would get to know the game characters and other elements in small steps. The approach wouldn’t have the risk of going all-in with a large scale game production all at once, nor would it remain a set of independent games not forming a uniform collection of educational content.

Flickr image CC credits: Tim Green aka atoach


Gamification Ain’t Just Hyped Fabrication

The notion of play comes from inside, it’s in our nature. And I am not just referring to us humans. Take a look at this clip:

Play and gaming are something we get engaged in just because we want to. Why we want to, that varies a lot. I bet those baby ducks were into sliding just for the thrills, but there can be many other motivators, too. Mastery, prizes, social bonding, intellectual challenges, to name a few.

Gamification and game mechanics are studied a lot these days. Gamification sits right at the top of Gartner’s emerging technology hype cycle in 2013. Whenever a technology is in that position, be aware of what gets said or written about it. After all, it is called a hype cycle.

At the same token, not everything is baloney. There are reasons for a  technology to get up there. That’s also the case with gamification. It is not a silver bullet solving climate change or all economic crises. However, if applied well and in right contexts, it can turn out to be useful. And fun.

Gamification basically means applying game-like mechanics and components in non-game contexts. Such components are for example badges, leaderboards, storylines, and currencies. I am especially interested in applying these things in the domain of education.

Some say games and gamified educational materials can make school fun again. I am not in that camp. First of all, I believe that claiming current school to be “unfun” is mostly a reflection of us adults who went to school in the 80s or before.

Secondly, I think educational materials alone cannot do the trick.  Having fun / enjoying oneself benefits from a safe environment, with engaging social surroundings. Gamified materials can help for sure, but they amount up only a part of the equation.

It all comes down to motivation. How to motivate pupils to learn, that is the key question. If that requires splitting up content into chunks that manifest elements familiar from games, let’s do it! If those chunks can follow each other to form a game-like story, let’s do it more!

I started this post by stating that motivation varies per individual. I like water slides so in that sense I get motivated by similar things as the ducks above. I also like intellectual challenges found e.g. in crossword puzzles. I suspect most ducks don’t.

So gamification is closely related to personalized/adaptive learning. We like to play different games and get motivated by different rewards. Also—and this is important—many of us don’t want to play games, at least not all the time. For them we need to fade out the gamified layer instead of underlining it.