Angry Birds are played 200 million minutes a day. What would happen if so much time was spent on learning new things? Is there anything teachers could learn from Angry Birds to make their lessons more interesting to students and make learning more fun and rewarding? We have analyzed what made Angry Birds so popular and could the same principles be used to make education more interesting.
Mix simplicity and challenge – just right amounts, just right time
The key reason why Angry Birds are so addictive is the fact that the game is simple enough for anyone to play and at the same time you are faced with challenging levels at just the right times, when you start feeling confident and when your actions are becoming automated. In other words, the learning curve starts from a very low point, then goes slowly upwards, and at the right moment it becomes very steep. Since you have had no problems with completing previous levels and you have acquired the notion that with little practice and learning you could overcome this obstacle so you are persistent to continue trying until you are successful. This is sometimes referred to as “the unfinished job syndrome” and that is the reason which makes people go over and over again to try and complete levels in games (at least in those with good management of user experience). Timing is crucial here and that’s what Rovio guys did great since if the initial period of simplicity is too long, users simply become bored and uninstall the app (remember all those “five-minute glory apps you installed, started playing, got bored and uninstalled), but if it is too challenging at the beginning you simply give up (for me, it happened with Gun Bros for example).
However, in education, the learning process starts at a point which is pre-defined for an average person and from there it goes steadily upwards without paying much attention to make a “hook” – to make it simple so that everyone can do it and then introduce a challenge that everyone feel they can overcome. You constantly learn new things, write assignments, etc. and new information is introduced, but there is one catch – if you want to be successful you have to have a good start at the beginning (when you still don’t know why you need all this knowledge). In other words, if you don’t pay attention at the start of the course, or if your previous knowledge of the subject is less then average – you will probably have problems to catch up later. Consequently, as in difficult games, many kids simply give up. Nobody could assure me that some kids can’t learn some basic facts after being in school for a couple of years (ex. a recent survey showed that 25% of 17-year-old students could not identify Adolf Hitler as well as that 10% thought that he was a munitions producer) – it’s just that they gave up once and after that they only work before the test enough to get a passing grade (however, that knowledge does not end up in their long term memory).
If teachers would start easily and make it fun in the beginning, students would be more engaged and later when they get new information or task, they will see it as a challenge and not as a hard (unachievable) task. They would have already formed a mental picture that it could be solved and that it’s fun, so there will be motivated to succeed and not to pass the test.
Allow trial and error learning, then reward with mastery
Another problem in school is error correction. When you make a mistake in school you get a bad grade, it affects your self-confidence and you get stressed. So many students actually have a fear of making a mistake and that is what keeps them from mastering some skill.
On the other hand, when you play Angry Birds errors are seen as ways to improve your skill. You have the trail which stays on the screen long enough after your attempt so that you could use the data about your error to correct it. And except for the sound of pigs, which is irritating just enough to keep you trying, no one pressures you. This is known as error correction mechanism, the usually unused learning opportunity in schools. Getting a C or D means nothing if it’s not immediately followed by the explanation why those answers were wrong (not just what the right answers are).
And perhaps even more importantly, when students finish some assignment they get the mark (equals to score in the game), but they usually go to the new topic so quickly that they did not have the time to use the newly acquired skill and enjoy the knowledge they have just acquired. This is the process that leads to mastery and while trying to teach kids as much as possible our schools usually oversee this aspect.
Have you noticed how easy those next levels seem once you completed the one level which caused you so many problems? You have acquired the skill in the challenging level and all you have to do now is to use it – and while using it you become so skillful in it that when you look back you simply can’t believe that it was a problem before. Thus, your learning gets a purpose and you feel so good for making such progress that it keeps you in the loop. You can start practicing a new skill now and learning new things and connecting this knowledge with the new elements which are introduced into your learning experience. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often in schools – instead of that you get a mark and you move on to something “completely different”. Nobody plays Angry Birds because of the score (btw, do you remember your last score?) but because of the way they feel when they complete the level (or when they three-star the level, or find a golden egg…)
Think visually – Visualize everything
All this is great as a concept, but if Angry Birds weren’t so adorable – nothing would have happened. The first thing created were the characters and then Rovio created everything around them paying so much attention to make everything visually perfect. The visual experience is what got people involved to start playing the game – then all above mentioned addiction hooks kicked into play.
And now, open any school book and tell me – how appealing is it? Teaching materials have to be modern in the sense that they have to be able to compete with the wealth of visually appealing content students are surrounded by all the time on TV, web and games. This concept has already proved its worth with infographics – do you think that you would read all those things about state budgets, anatomy of Apple email, Web 2.0 summit, etc. if they were written in a school book – not likely, but you have seen (and more importantly – understood) the information when presented in this way, and you even got interested in the subject enough to decide to share this information with your friends.
There is a change of paradigm in the education world – schools can’t rely anymore on telling the students that education is important and that the efforts they invest now will pay out later. Students have to “satisfy” their immediate needs by using the newly acquired skills in the present, like they do in Angry Birds, and until schools find a way to provide it, education won’t be in sync with the world around it.
There is a need to manage the process of learning wisely in the way gaming experience is managed in Angry Birds. Rovio has shown that they have found the right formula to stay at the top of the App Store charts and we should see whether the same formula can be used in other aspects of life.
One thing is for sure – if learning was (like) a game, we would all know more. Do you think that there are other ingredients of Angry Birds success which made it so addictive, adorable and popular and which education could use? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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