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Thoughts from the Leapfrog Learning Center in Shrewsbury

Part V

Motivational Formatting:

“Which of the variables that motivate human behavior can be harnessed to drive learning? …. All of them.”

How well students learn depends on the context of how information is presented to them.  This journey started with something I learned from Sesame Street.  “If you can make the learning process fun, then everyone can be a high achiever.”  This simple dynamic is observed daily by every mother in America and, yet it is still ignored by the educational establishment.  Eventually, I realized that there are powerful generic engines that drive all human behavior and that a proclivity for fun is only one of them.  The significance of this observation came to me as an epiphany while I was walking to an elevator in New York City.

I was leaving a friend’s apartment when two children (ages about five and six) raced past me in the hall. Each wanted to be the first to press the elevator “call button.”  I was struck by the realization that this dynamic was “cross-cultural.”  Children everywhere will run because they want to be first to press the button.  They know pressing the button first means they control the elevator … and that makes them feel important.  Then I realized that this was only one of many human nature engines that drive behavior and all these forces could be integrated into the learning process.

Suddenly, I knew that motivating learning is merely a process of linking “human nature dynamics” to activities that reinforce teaching targets.  If we can harness play behavior to drive learning, then students become enthusiastic participants in the process and teaching targets are learned quickly.  This is true of all age groups. Most of these “human nature” engines evolve with age so learning activities must be synchronized with the maturity and sophistication level of the student.  “Play” is clearly a powerful motivation but it is part of a sub-context for a wide variety of more subtle drives that can make activities relevant and interesting.  The elevator example is driven by a desire to feel important and, simplistically, can be exploited if children are required to answer a question before pushing the button.  Young children all start school driven by an insatiable curiosity which is part of their pre-programmed imperative to figure out who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into it.  Losing this momentum in older grades represents one of the great squandered opportunities of traditional education.  “Motivational formatting” is an effort the package teaching targets around these natural priorities (like curiosity, play preferences, or the need to feel important) and extend the duration of the natural enthusiasm with which all children start the school process.

The heart of a motivational curriculum is a child centered perspective.  The fact that children have immature priorities (and would rather play than study), is age appropriate.  Instead of subverting these priorities by insisting children study “school work,” we should harness them.  Motivational formatting strives to accomplish this by making the learning process fun, interactive, and relevant.  If learning activities can be made more fun than traditional play, then educational concepts can be reinforced outside school as learning activities become integrated with entertainment (the Holy Grail of the concept).  The design challenge of linking “learning” to “fun” will be different for different grades because the concept of “fun” becomes more sophisticated as students age.  The mechanics of the design process must start with an elaborate psychological profile (for each age level) to identify student preferences for music, games, fantasies, toys, television shows, movies, food, candy, etc.  The easiest way to track this evolution is by analyzing “play” behavior and entertainment preferences … so these elements can be integrated into the teaching process.  The objective will be to weave learning targets around these parameters to exploit generic preferences and ensure high levels of enthusiasm.

The mechanical process of program design will be based on reverse engineering which will start with a precise summary of target skill levels required at the end of each grade level.  Skills will be broken down into monthly segments.  Design teams will further break the learning process into discrete sequential increments presented so that new information is always in context and consistent with the student’s existing knowledge base.  Motivational presentation formats will be created by a collaboration of multi-disciplinary teams involving educators, cognitive scientist, psychologists, graphic designers, computer programmers, animators, video technicians, and a wide variety of expertise from the entertainment industry.  Working classrooms will be integrated into the design process so that proto-type programming can be field tested to confirm which elements work best and what modifications are needed to customize the process for different ethnic groups.

We already have many experts in motivational programming.  They work in areas like advertising and the film industry.  The creative resources of Madison Avenue and Hollywood are experts at how to capture people’s attention and motivate behavior.  The same dynamics can be harnessed to motivate learning.  Imagine the results if the resources used to create films like Shrek, Toy Story, or Star Wars were harnessed to make films that teach academics.  Imagine these results being magnified by games, music, television spin offs, and “smart” textbooks,” all coordinated to reinforce the same teaching targets.

Visit the leapfrog learning center nj and see where the solution to the education crisis evolved

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