What goes into making a good app for students studying English?
An Interview of Bob Coffee of Shortsnap Learning
App design is a science and an art. We design user experiences. Part of that experience is learning English. So, we need to strike a balance between highly engaging and highly educational, and some people may not think those two go together. If we seek to make a fun and entertaining experience and then add educational content into that afterwards it feels forced and learning suffers. However, if you do the opposite, and focus on educational content and gamify the app later, then the app feels boring. We have to constantly integrate the educational learning experience with a highly engaging user experience. This is an art but there is a science behind it.
Many educational apps suffer from slow pacing, and low density feedback experiences. When we design our apps, we strive for fast pace, highly engaging, high-density feedback experiences while balancing learning. To give just one example of a poorly designed educational app. I saw one app that asked the player to read a passage and then answer questions on it. Where do I start? First, why go to all the trouble to make an app if you are just going to plop a textbook onto a digital device without adding something new and original? Also, the pacing and user experience was slow, it didn’t take advantage of the unique functionality of the UI, and the feedback density was low.
What else can you say about designing a good app?
There is a term in instructional design circles called chocolate covered broccoli. The fun part of the app is the chocolate and the learning is the broccoli. People are smart and you can’t create a learning app and then layer game mechanics onto it. Users will just lick the chocolate off the broccoli and throw the broccoli away, which means no learning takes place. What that means is that as instructional app designers we need to integrate or inject the chocolate into the broccoli so that the game play: the chocolate; and the learning: the broccoli, are inseparable.
The how of that is the art of app design. It is a creative process that is hard to put into words. But there are paradigms and systems of design; for instance you have to remember that learning is itself very rewarding. We just forget that because we may have created negative associations with school, being forced to memorize stuff that we have no interest in. However, real learning is always fun and exciting. And learning is an active process. And that is what mobile devices and apps allow us to tap into. At ShortSnap Learning we strive to marry learning and fun. We have a saying at our design studio; “If the player is not having fun then they’re not learning.” And our tag line is “Because learning should be fun”. We believe strongly in both.
About Bob Coffee of Shortsnap Learning
Bob Coffee owns Shortsnap Learning, a company on the forefront of making great apps for students learning English.
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