We’ve known for some time that relevant learning which takes place outside of lessons seriously improves attainment levels. Surprising breakthroughs in motivating learners to do this are being reported in highly challenging educational environments

There may be nothing very surprising in terms of educators realising the potential value of educational software, both inside and outside the classroom. Nonetheless, important new questions need to be asked in the context of the talk given video below:

What are the improvements in takeup (of home learning, of educational software usage) as a result of the CFY (Computers For Youth) approach?

What are the measurable impacts upon performance?

Are the results of the efforts so far mostly as a result of:

  • teacher encouragement/instruction?
  • provision of free on-site/take home resources?
  • voluntary and unprompted/undirected usage/playing/learning?
  • parental involvement/engagement/participation?

There was a point in this talk (which was called Can You Change a Child’s Education? given at TEDx USC 2011 on April the 27th) where Elizabeth Stock tells software developers to ‘go forth’ (and develop entertaining, ‘out-of-the-classroom’ educational software).

In my experience, even if this produces a better than expected response, the key risk is one of a significant mismatch between the most needed resources and those that are most likely to look like exciting development opportunities.

In other words, as an example, a ‘just better than average game that successfully improves the teaching and learning of a difficult-to-impart chemistry problem’ is a more urgent and valuable resource than a fantastic, highly acclaimed resource which helps learners understand something else that has never been a problem to teach, or is a lower priority, or is something the user is already likely to understand, or is better handled interactively in the classroom without software, or is better taught with software which also teaches other things.

If we are going to see a substantial move towards embracing software as a way of motivating learning (either because the software is in the form of a game, or if we use the techniques of gamification on non-game educational resources) the sorts of issues we need to consider might include:

  • how do we incentivise developers?
  • how do we ensure that there is process whereby requirements for software are driven by learning needs?
  • how do we ensure that deployment of ‘motivational education software’ is coordinated systematically with curriculum and lesson planning?
  • how do ensure that teacher workload is lightened and liberated rather than encumbered by this?

One promise that this development holds, is that many of the things which make learning harder to achieve under adverse conditions (and with the looming prospect of increasingly stringent budget constraints in many places) may now have a potential counterbalance.

A potential concern may be that for these new resources to have the best chances of doing the most good in the shortest time, they will (at least initially) almost inevitably require the provision of additional resources, at a time when they are least likely to be forthcoming.

And here’s where the whole ‘outside the class’ thing took everyone by storm: