As back to school approaches, the topic of learning takes center stage. Lynn Rasmussen; parent, app developer, and creator of math apps Arithmaroo and MathGirl Number Garden, offers her insight on how characteristics of apps can open up new pathways for learning and new resources for traditional education systems.
Apps offer an entirely new medium for education. App developers have only scratched the surface of what’s possible. Just as Wikipedia and Google have changed how people get information, apps can change how people learn.
Apps have the capacity to offer inexpensive, individualized, engaging, and efficient learning experiences. Tested in the marketplace, they succeed only if they are easy to use, enjoyed, and recommended. In contrast, traditional classroom settings encounter challenges and limitations that make evolution difficult.
By looking at features of apps, a new view of what’s possible in education emerges.
Customized and Progressive Navigation
Many schools place children in levels by age. Some children are stuck in levels they’ve already mastered. Some are advanced before they are ready. Too many students experience continual failure and then discover that the offered solution is more hours in the same game.
However, in a well-designed game, you advance as you master a level. If a game is poorly designed, or if it’s too hard or too easy, you simply find another, better game.
From Top-Down Systems to Self-Organizing Networks
State and (as of last month) national standards determine what each child should learn in each grade and in each subject. Teachers are expected to teach the curriculum, redesign it as needed, and customize it to each student’s needs – all with limited resources.
With apps, kids can empower themselves. Thousands of individual apps meet the particular needs of particular users. It’s possible to envision how apps might compliment a teacher’s instruction, enabling a teacher to become more of a curator of knowledge rather than a student’s sole source of instruction.
From System-Centric vs. User-Centric
Tired? Sick? Hungry? Not a morning person? A death or divorce in the family? Most schools conform to a fixed, inflexible schedule.
You can play an app whenever and wherever you want. It’s there for you when you get back to it. It can track where you left off. You progress at your own speed and determine your own level of difficulty. You can always replay to get it right.
From Learning as Work to Learning as Play
The job market is constantly changing and becoming more competitive. People with jobs are required to not just fill their job positions, but to also redesign them as they go. People without jobs have to create their own work.
As we move from the traditional systems of work into new evolving systems, we need to play. Great design requires play. Play helps us open up, connect, discover, and create. With apps, learning can be diverse, expansive, engaging, and fun.
From Mass Assessment to User Feedback
The education system decides exactly what and when students learn. Teachers sometimes remain in the system whether they are effective or not. Massive corporate testing can be an underlying presence throughout the school year.
If an app doesn’t work for you, you find another app that will. If it plays well and if it adds value to your life, you support it. You and other players rate and recommend apps to others. Users provide immediate feedback to app developers. Good developers respond with revisions and with new, more effective apps. The feedback of the market, the users, drives the system.
After comparing how education works to how apps work, the possibility of a new, improved system emerges; one that thrives on the experiences and feedback of its students, that supports and evolves the roles and responsibilities of teachers, and that taps into the power of play.