by Peter Kinney, CTO of Digital Dreams Labs
Curiosity thrives when learning is intuitive and playful, and curiosity is the key to true learning. A curious child will seek out answers to all of life’s questions, and love every minute of it.
This isn’t the only way to learn, but the most common alternative seems to revolve around coercion and memorization “If you don’t study hard for this test, you’ll fail and never get anywhere in life.” But back to curiosity.
Curiosity thrives when learning is intuitive and playful. Playful is a slippery concept, so we’ll focus on just two aspects of play–it’s intuitive, safe, and it’s fun. Let’s look at what each of those mean in practice.
When learning is intuitive…
If the learning isn’t intuitive, students will get stuck and not make any progress. This doesn’t mean that work should be simple, and students can’t be challenged. There is a difference between challenging and confusing.
The answer doesn’t have to be obvious, but at least one way to proceed should be. As long as the student always has an idea to try, she’s making progress and eventually reaches her goal.
When a student feels intellectually and creatively safe…
When a student isn’t afraid of making mistakes, she’s more likely to simply try things to see what happens. Safety doesn’t mean there is no way to fail; it means it’s okay to fail. Having a lesson that is safe and intuitive frees children to experiment and find the answers on their own, which is more satisfying and easier to remember than being told the solution.
When learning is really, truly fun…
Fun is the aspect that I personally find most important. If the child is having fun, she’ll keep coming back for more and have a good impression of the topic being taught. Not every aspect needs to be fun on its own as long as the big picture is engaging (I would never chop onions just for the thrill of it, but I enjoy it when I’m cooking).
Our Response: cloudBoard
So how do you make something that’s intuitive, safe, and fun? I’ll take you through how my team learned these ideas and used them in creating a hands-on learning platform called cloudBoard.
During our graduate studies, we found something magical in connecting the real and digital by using physical manipulatives to control virtual worlds. cloudBoard brings that connection into schools and homes by using toy puzzle pieces to play videogames. This combination of real and digital doesn’t automatically make things intuitive and playful, but it makes it much easier.
Creating an experience that exists both virtually and physically gives us an incredible power to layer complexity into the experience. The virtual side of the experience can be very complex and often must be to represent some of the more difficult concepts we want to teach, such as computer science, chemistry, or language. We balance this complexity through the toy puzzle blocks, which are simple and easy to understand.
The blocks act as a gateway into the more advanced ideas presented digitally. Because the blocks are so familiar, children never feel lost or overwhelmed as they explore the complex topics being presented. For example, in the first cloudBoard game, Cork the Volcano, children link the toy puzzle blocks together to write a computer program and guide a character through each level.
To make the experience playful, we draw heavily from videogames. First, we focus on finding a mechanic that embodies to what we’re trying to teach, then build a game around that mechanic. If we can’t find a fun way to present a particular subject, we won’t make a game for it. It can take a long time to find a mechanic that’s both fun and grounded in the lesson we want to teach, but once we do, we can focus on creating a great game.
Right now, we’re running a Kickstarter campaign, trying to raise enough money to get cloudBoard into production. Check it out if you want to get your hands on cloudBoard, if you want to make some games for it, or if you’re a little curious yourself.
Peter Kinney is co-founder and CTO of Digital Dream Labs. Peter has always believed in the power of games to teach, but never considered that he would be on the forefront of that effort. A game designer by trade, he was always more focused on making things fun than on teaching, recently he’s discovered that the two aren’t so different after all; When Learning Is Playful And Intuitive, Good Things Happen