An African Opportunity!

Uganda is a special place although to look at it geographically it is a landlocked country in East Africa. It is bordered on the east by Kenya, on the north by South Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo but that is the only the start of the tale.

It lies almost entirely within the Nile basin and contains a large amount of lake Victoria the second largest freshwater lake in the world. As a former British Colony (independent since 1962) – English is the first language.

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Nakanyonyi Primary School, Jinja

Uganda adopted universal primary school education in 1997 which saw net enrollment rise from 2.3 million to 7.5 million in just over two years and created obvious knock on issues with teacher capacity, school and classroom infrastructure.

Skoolbo has been delighted to partner with Soft Power Education  who have been working in Uganda since 1999 particularly to help the Ugandan government achieve its millennium goals with regard to Primary School education.

Soft Power Education have refurbished 50 schools in the Jinja area so helping to deal with that expanding school roll with only 30 more to go! They have also been working in the Murchison Falls Conservation area since 2007.

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Children first time using Skoolbo in the classroom

Colin Brown – Director of Partnerships for Skoolbo visited Soft Power with Jeff Halley and 12 tablets (Samsung / Nexus) to start an exciting and ground breaking pilot in East Africa. The tablets will be used in a range of educating setting including pre-schools directly run by Softpower and the Nakanyonyi Primary School.Orientating the teachers with the tablets was almost as much fun as introducing the children to them. The opportunities of using touch screen technology combined with Skoolbo’s education game was quite an eye opener but once we had got over the initial impact the game started to draw the children in and you could start to see the real impact in learning.

We look forward to posting regular updates on Skoolbo in Uganda as the pilot progresses!

 

The team in Uganda

The team in Uganda


The Skoolbo team in action

Educational games – the new way to motivate learning

Shane Hill, Skoolbo Founder, looks at educational games and whether it is a natural evolution from traditional methods of teaching such as textbooks and whiteboards.

downloadAs the new generation of children grow up within a world where technology is a strong feature in their everyday lives, it is inevitable that the education sector and teachers will need to adapt their learning styles to suite their children. Here game-based learning and eLearning is a natural evolution from traditional methods of teaching such as textbooks and whiteboards.

Without question, making learning fun and engaging is the key to success and this is no different for eLearning programmes too. Without this, everything else becomes irrelevant. It’s true there are some children who do not require an eLearning program to be fun and engaging; however they are in a significant minority and tend to be the students who least need help from the programs. If you genuinely engage the child over an extended period of time then amazing outcomes are possible.

I have found that multiplayer games are a particularly powerful way of engaging children. It’s amazing how much more excited and motivated children become when they are playing against peers, teachers or close family.

However, a critical balancing act occurs when children are immersed in highly engaging learning environments. It’s important the fun and games elements do not become the dominant focus and ultimately distract from the learning. They need to be carefully blended to ensure they support the learning as opposed to simply being a game with some learning thrown in.

Another aspect becoming largely common in eLearning systems to help motivate and engage children are reward systems. There have been some highly interesting studies under the topic of game theory in designing reward systems to best motivate actions. In a learning context we are trying to encourage appropriate use over an extended period of time. We do not want children to use the programs obsessively for a few weeks and then never again. Therefore the reward system needs to encourage lots of short sessions over many months and years. It should reward genuine effort for each child, as opposed to simply excellence which may be unattainable for some students.

For the rewards system to be effective in motivating, children must desire the rewards. Therefore rewards need to be specifically tailored to the target age group of the program but be flexible enough to adpat as the child ages and tastes and preferences change.

What every great e-Learning system needs – an intelligent algorithm

There are many components that go into making great e-Learning. Ultimately the measure of greatness of an e-Learning program, or any learning program, should be a direct reflection of the level of improvement in educational outcomes as a result of the program.

As we all know every child has different needs, progresses at a different speed and has different support networks they rely on. Therefore a key factor to look for in an e-Learning system, if you want to get real results, is whether it can be personalised to each child and their learning needs. This is commonly achieved by built in algorithms within the software.

Skoolbo Spiral Learning Algorithm

Skoolbo Spiral Learning Algorithm

A good e-Learning program will give every child the optimal curriculum regardless of his or her actual age. Presenting the child with just the right question at precisely the right time is the hallmark of a great e-Learning program. It should pre-test the child and then continue to reassess after each game/level. This provides a unique pathway for each child, which fully accounts for individual strengths and weaknesses. Ideally a blend of new content; not yet mastered content; and revision content should be used in the programme.

However e-Learning programs work best when there is full involvement and support from teachers, parents and peers. We all know there are certain moments when a child is most receptive to feedback, praise and support. Finding a system that will intervene at precisely those moments is key! Immediate feedback and support from parents and teachers aids self-learning, the most powerful form of learning there is.

Creating an even larger fan base for children which might include grandparents, siblings or cousins who can also be involved in the e-Learning system and actively take part can not only encourage children but build stronger relationships. And let’s not forget how competitiveness amongst peers can also motivate children to learn.

Data is also vital here to allow monitoring by teachers and parents of specific strengths and weaknesses of individual children. This can become invaluable at progress meetings/ parents evenings where both the teacher and parents can easily recognise great achievements by the child but equally can be alerted as to exactly what areas support and guidance is needed.

I believe learning apps that do not share a child’s results with the teacher and parents are limiting their educational benefit by at least 50%. Sadly, of the more than 10,000 learning apps available for the iPad there are only a handful that share their data with teachers and parents.

Shane Hill, Founder of Skoolbo and Mathletics

Top 3 ways in which children learn

Learning speed in children largely depends on the child’s natural abilities. But no matter what kind of gifts a child has or lacks, children can maximise their abilities by using tools, techniques and mechanics to make it easier and help their learning.

There are a huge number of resources, eLearning games and apps now available to support you and your children. However when picking which to use you must remember to keep in mind the 3 key ways in which children learn.

1) Learn by doing – not simply watching!

The Chinese proverb “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand” goes hand in hand with learning.

It is a known fact that hands on learning is good for both children and adults. The learner is actively involved instead of just sitting and listening. In order to learn best and increase capabilities, children must be actively involved in hands-on activities every day.

There are various eLearning resources that can show you how to do almost anything. The best ones provide expert modelling of the task. However, in order for these to be truly beneficial they must also spur the learner to action, letting them practice the skill.

2) Teachable moments – Immediate feedback and support

Every parent and teacher knows there are certain moments when a child is most receptive to feedback and support. Great resources and eLearning will intervene at precisely those moments! Immediate feedback and support aids self-learning, the most powerful form of learning there is. It’s also valuable for the support system to be scaffolded in such a way that it becomes less prominent when the child no longer requires it.

3) Opportunity to make mistakes… including some consequences!

This is actually one of the most critical elements of learning, yet it’s surprisingly one that is often missed. We all learn through our mistakes and it is no different for children. However it is vital to create an environment where there are some consequences to making these mistakes too in order to gain learning. This should be a key factor when you are looking for resources to use. It is amazing that at least 50% of eLearning programs have no built in consequences for the child in relation to mistakes. They simply provide options such as “click again” and the child often randomly clicks through the various possible answers. I would contend very strongly that this approach does not aid learning. You need to create an environment where the child feels comfortable with making mistakes (as these are great learning opportunities), but ultimately wants to rectify those mistakes so that they do not continue to be impeded by them.

Shane Hill, Founder of Skoolbo and Mathletics

Ten Essential Components of Great e-Learning

Shane Hill-100There are many components that go into making great e-Learning. Ultimately the measure of greatness of an e-Learning program, or any learning program, should be a direct reflection of the level of improvement in educational outcomes as a result of the program.

Put simply; the more a program lifts educational outcomes, the better it is.

E-Learning programs tend to fit into one of the following categories:

  • Electronic Textbook
  • Productivity / Creativity enabler
  • Curiosity enabler
  • E-Reader
  • Simulators and manipulatives
  • Skill builder
  • Expert modeling
  • Research facilitator
  • Shared learning tool
  • Class management tool

There are some excellent examples available of all of these types of e-Learning programs. Each category will have a different set of criteria in the key components to make them great. For this blog, I’m going to focus on the category of Skill Builders – I believe these have the largest potential to directly lift educational outcomes.

1. Fun and engaging, but not distracting

Without question, making a program fun and engaging is the most important component. Without this, everything else becomes irrelevant. It’s true there are some children who do not require an e-Learning program to be fun and engaging, however they are in a significant minority and tend to be the students who least need help from the programs. If you genuinely engage the child over an extended period of time then amazing outcomes are possible.

I have found that multiplayer games are a particularly powerful way of engaging children. It’s amazing how much more excited and motivated children become when they are playing with each other.

A critical balancing act occurs when children are immersed in highly engaging learning environments. It’s important the fun and games elements do not become the dominant focus and ultimately distract from the learning. They need to be carefully blended to ensure they support the learning as opposed to simply being a game with some learning thrown in.

2. Simple to use – The “it just works” principle

Never underestimate the value of keeping things simple. It’s better for a learning program to do a few things really well, as opposed to lots of things poorly. Apple has proven how powerful creating wonderful devices that “just work” can be. Therefore the key objective is to make a program that is exceptionally powerful, but super simple to use.

3. Motivating reward systems

It could be argued that this should come within fun and engaging, however I believe it’s worthy of its own section. There have been some highly interesting studies under the topic of game theory in designing reward systems to best motivate actions. In a learning context we are trying to encourage appropriate use over an extended period of time. We do not want children to use the programs obsessively for a few weeks and then never again. Therefore the reward system needs to encourage lots of short sessions over many months and years. It should reward genuine effort for each child, as opposed to simply excellence which may be unattainable for some students.

For the rewards system to be effective the children must covet the rewards. Rewards need to be specifically tailored to the target age group of the program.

4. Teachable moments – Immediate feedback and support

Every parent and teacher knows there are certain moments when a child is most receptive to feedback and support. Great e-Learning will intervene at precisely those moments! Immediate feedback and support aids self-learning, the most powerful form of learning there is. It’s also valuable for the support system to be scaffolded in such a way that it becomes less prominent when the child no longer requires it.

5. Opportunity to make mistakes… including some consequences!

This is actually one of the most critical elements in making effective e-Learning, yet it’s surprisingly one most often missed. By saying opportunity to make mistakes I mean creating an environment where there are some consequences to making a mistake. It is amazing that at least 50% of e-Learning programs have no built in consequences for the child in relation to mistakes. They simply provide options such as “click again” and the child often randomly clicks through the various possible answers. I would contend very strongly that this approach does not aid learning. You need to create an environment where the child feels comfortable with making mistakes (as these are great learning opportunities), but ultimately wants to rectify those mistakes so that they do not continue to be impeded by them.

6. Fast paced – build automaticity

We have found that most children learn best when placed within a fast paced learning environment. The explanation to this is that working at a rapid pace aids engagement, whereas if questions are presented too slowly then boredom sets in.

The aim is not for the child to become a speed reader or an incredibly fast mathematician, it’s simply to build automaticity at these core skills. A slow reader will struggle with comprehension since so much of their attention is directed to decoding. A fast paced learning environment is also highly efficient with children typically answering more than 400 questions over a 30 minute period.

7. Adapts to the child and chooses just the right curriculum

Presenting the child with just the right question at precisely the right time is the hallmark of a great e-Learning program. By definition this will be a unique pathway for each and every child, which fully accounts for individual strengths and weaknesses. There needs to be just the right balance of new content with revision content… again this will depend upon the individual.

8. Flow of data to teacher and parent

E-Learning programs will work best when they fully involve teachers and parents. Good e-Learning programs amass a tremendous amount of data. Of greatest value are detailed reports to teachers and parents that highlight specific strengths and weaknesses of the individual child. Tremendous benefit comes from teachers and parents recognizing wonderful achievements by the child; equally parents and teachers need to be alerted as to when their support and guidance is needed.

I believe learning apps that do not share a child’s results with the teacher and parents are limiting their educational benefit by at least 50%. Sadly, of the more than 10,000 learning apps available for the iPad there are only a handful that share their data with teachers and parents.

A further extension of this is the ability to better blend online work with offline. A major area where I believe we will see considerable expansion in the coming years is e-Learning programs using their data to generate better printed materials for each individual child.

9. Learn by doing – not simply watching!

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” – Chinese proverb

There are some wonderful e-Learning resources out there which show you how to do almost anything. The best ones provide expert modeling of the task. In order for these to be truly beneficial they must also spur the learner to action, letting them practice the skill.

10. Makes full use of various learning channels

E-Learning programs are able to utilize visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning channels. Printed mediums such as workbooks are limited to simply visual approaches through text and static diagrams. Their effectiveness is also heavily dependent on a child’s reading ability. E-Learning can use highly interactive visual and audio material to aid learning. One of the great advantages of tablets such as the iPad is that they are able to provide a more tactile learning experience in comparison to the traditional desktop.

One key area that I’ve omitted from above is “anywhere, anytime” as I have taken that as assumed. The last decade has seen us move from CD-Rom and network based programs to web applications and now to the most accessible mobile applications. E-Learning programs that maximize the “anywhere, anytime” principle will also maximize learning opportunities.

These are the fundamental components we have spent the last two years incorporating into Skoolbo Core Skills. We also believe that in order for e-Learning to fully change the world it must also be free and in so doing allow every child the opportunity of a first rate education.

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