Interactive Learning, Alone

Interactive learning as a methodology has long been the failsafe refrain for progressive educators. When we encounter reference to 21st Century Learning, what usually follows is a set of familiar talking points on and around forms of interactivity in learning: social, cultural, creative, collaborative, and — of course — personal.

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The movement in favour of interactive learning in education emerged in response to the failure of the Socratic method, i.e., chalk ’n’ talk, to meet a diversity of learning needs. While this technique may have been used in just about every school worldwide, for just about as long as formal education existed; it also just didn’t work very well for most learners — including even some of the most highly selected and motivated students in Higher Ed.

Change is hard. Harder still is systemic change — rooted in years of education systems, curriculum, products, pedagogies, and even people.

Therein lies the problem: hard-wired educational systems, combined with a level of inertia requiring significant force to get the system moving forward, up, and out from where it’s stuck.

Some forms of interaction are easier to achieve than others. Increasing student opportunities to ‘interact’ socially (on topic presumably) is doable and in fact one of the early changes in progressive teaching that has roots in collaborative-type group work. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t been exposed to small group, break-out sessions in an educational setting — school or professional workshop.

Even in the digital domain, there’s no escaping group sessions, with our favourite video conferencing platforms featuring tools that push us out into timed group discussions. I think it’s fair to say that person-to-person interactive learning is now ubiquitous, even inescapable.

What about learning interactively; alone?

If interactive learning requires a reciprocal engagement — a back-and-forth, or at the very least a response to a unique interaction in a way that is in and of itself adaptive — and that isn’t depending on another person, then we need look no further than gaming.

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The gaming industry delivered to its community interactive agency-inducing experiences long ago. If-then-else. Done. And so it should come as no surprise that the most successful student interactive-learning platforms take the form of a game. Choose your avatar; select map, begin. No lengthy reads. No pre-tests or end-of chapter quizzes. And, perhaps most importantly, no progress without success.

When talking formative assessment and the importance of success — mastery — ensuring the foundation of knowledge and skills are in place prior to advancing, games and the gaming industry handle this with ease. Level-up. Proceed.

Beyond games, or game-based learning apps, where else can we see innovation in interactive learning? The answer, so far, lies with coding — with much credit to trailblazers such as, Scratch, or RaspberryPi, Minecraft Education or CodeAcademy among others entering this busy and rapidly-expanding market.

Coding had a renaissance in modality of learning this century that most other curriculum areas missed; gone are heavy textbooks, tedious introductions and theoretical barriers to learning. When a new student downloads M1m0 onto their phone or enrols in Prograd Junior for the first time, they don’t begin by reading an introduction to coding, or receive instructions to turn to Chapter 1. They simply start, coding. Line by line. Interacting first, from the start.

Postscript: This post and others to follow will explore a series of learning topics, product architectures, UX and design principles as part of our journey at Phenomena Learning. We’re building a next-gen interactive-first platform for active engagement, experiential learning and real-time personalised assessment. We’re starting with High School science and expanding out from there.

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