The Angry Birds Effect
I used to talk about the “Nintendo Effect.” The reason why kids of all ages love and get hooked on video games is because of the great educational best practices these games employ. These best practices are: student-centric instead of monolithic, immediate feedback, actionable feedback, the opportunity to immediately go back and re-try, and the ability to collaborate and watch others play and learn from them. You would have to agree, all of these are important to learning whether you are a p-16 learner, business executive, or pro-football player. Right?
I have now changed my phrase, however, from “Nintendo Effect” to “Angry Birds Effect.” This change is not just to keep me more in tune with the times, but the fact that Angry Birds does a better job of combining all the best practices than Nintendo ever could. For those reading that have never played Angry Birds let me give you a little tutorial. Basically, you are presented with Angry Birds and a sling shot and your job is to destroy green pigs who are sheltered by very creative structures in a variety of settings. This game, designed by the Finnish game developer Rovio Mobile, was first designed for the Apple IOS system in 2009.
Each level starts with the number, types, and order of birds predetermined. If all the pigs are defeated by the time the last bird is used, and you improve your score three times the next level is unlocked. Basically, standards mastery! Upon completing each level, players receive one, two, or three stars, depending on the score received. I want to make sure you understand here, I can play as many times as needed to get all three stars – a little different than the way most students are graded today. Players may reattempt unlocked levels as many times as they wish in order to complete them successfully or to earn additional points or starts.
Angry Birds has many of the components that should be incorporated into great student centric curriculum and lesson planning or development of corporate training programs. The way most schools do feedback right now is by grades and “when the grades are handed out, the privilege of feeling successful is reserved only for the best students. By design, the rest experience failure” (Christensen, Horn, & Johnson, 2011). Let’s take a look at the best practices we can learn from Angry Birds:
1. Early in the game, the single Red Bird is the only one available-basic knowledge.
2. Players advance at their own pace.
3. Mastery is required to advance – You must have cleared a level three times with score improvement each time before moving on.
4. As the player advances, new levels are introduced.
5. The player can move ahead and clear levels beyond the one they are presently in, but not too far.
6. Different contexts are portrayed (deserts, gem mine, city at night, et cetera) to make it interesting and relevant to the player.
7. The player is given new tools (different types of birds) to use as he/she advances and unlocks higher levels.
8. Immediate feedback is given. The player knows the score immediately.
9. Ability to go back and retry and review any level any time.
10. The next level is always “just above” (Christensen et al., 2011) the players ability. Not too far above, but “just above.”
Let’s dig into this concept of “just above” a little deeper. Christensen et al. (2011) asserted, “There is mounting evidence that students’ learning is maximized when content is delivered “just above” their current capabilities – not too much of a stretch, and not too easy. Customization to the “just above” level for each student is much easier to achieve in software than in the current monolithic delivery of most schools.” This adds a whole new dimension to differentiated instruction and modifying learning according to the way students learn. Remember, this is true for adult learners as well.
So let’s recap what we can learn from Angry Birds. We must provide a learning environment that is student centric, not monolithic (Christensen et al., 2011); we must provide immediate and actionable feedback; we must provide the students with the ability to go back and keep trying and editing till mastery is achieved; and we must introduce material “just above” where each individual student’s capabilities are.
Next time you are planning a lesson, developing a training program, planning a practice, or whatever your profession has you teaching others; think about the best practices of Angry Birds.