The Lighthouse Learning team share what they learned about learning!
During the making of the Dragon Shapes app, we got some first hand experiences of how kids learn. We’ve compiled our knowledge into these 5 important ingredients for successful learning.
Most parents know that kids have a natural curiosity and like to explore. When we play tested our app with kids, we saw it in action! The grown-ups often stared at the screen to think things through before touching, whereas children would routinely jump right in and try everything to see what happens. We designed our puzzles to encourage exploration and accommodate all the different things kids might try. General navigation and button responses had to work quickly and intuitively for curious fingers. This left kids free to take an exploratory approach – exactly what’s needed for building great problem solving skills.
We often worry about kids’ short attention spans and how we can keep them focussed on learning. However, kids have a natural drive to solve problems and can get really hooked if this natural drive is engaged. Before each testing session, we would check the length of testing time parents felt comfortable with. Many parents said something along the lines of: ‘Well, you’ll be lucky if you can get them to stay focussed for more than 20 minutes’. All our testers played for 40 minutes or more! In order to achieve this, we spent a long time pitching the learning at the right difficulty level. We created content that got progressively harder and tested with different age groups to make sure puzzles were challenging but not too hard.
As adults we often see learning as a purely cognitive activity but for kids, emotion plays an important part in learning. We found that most kids put pressure on themselves to do well, especially when an adult is around. We couldn’t have predicted that nearly all our testers would avoid using the ‘hints’ button entirely because they didn’t want to ‘cheat’ and wanted the satisfaction of solving puzzles on their own. Some kids can also get disheartened very quickly. Placing emphasis on enjoying the discovery process rather than an immediate solution takes the pressure off. It’s important to design for the fact that learning can be an emotional roller coaster for kids so they need recognition and encouragement.
We included a fun storyline and characters in the Dragon Shapes app but we were unsure whether children would get into the story or overlook it for the more interactive puzzles. Testing showed that nearly all kids embraced the world of the story and characters and actively wanted to know what happened next. The story theme runs through the whole app and this was noticed more by kids than adults. For example, kids noticed the character graphics integrated with the puzzles and had strong ideas on their favourite characters. Kids, like grown-ups, engage most with what they can relate to. Research also suggests that using imagination is one of the main ways that kids develop essential learning skills.
5. Social Learning
We aimed to test with small groups of kids to keep things fun and see how they would behave together. We noticed that children would often share tips or be competitive with one another. In contrast, grown-ups usually preferred to focus quietly on solving puzzles independently. Our testers seemed to thrive on helping each other and were also quite motivated by the prospect of completing more puzzles than their peers (especially siblings!) Kids spend more time learning with others than on their own. There are also plenty of theories about how we learn best with others. This is where the inspiration came from for our next project, a puzzle builder for kids to create and share puzzles with each other.