Four Learning Frameworks You Must Know About
And how I use them to build better video games for learning
Video games in mathematics are either dull or exciting but do not actually help with learning. There's a long history of slapping existing game genres and basic maths skills together and calling it a game. This has ruined everyone's expectations about games in maths. But at PleDu, I take pedagogy and research in learning seriously. Our games are designed using some standout ideas in effective education from the outgo. This post introduces the core pillars of PleDu's educational philosophy.
Concrete - Pictorial - Abstract
This approach was pioneered by Jerome Bruner. But it is widely known as Singapore Maths because Singapore adopted it as a guiding principle of their maths curriculum standards. The main idea is that abstract concepts in maths have to be first in a concrete, tactile way. You need to be able to play with ideas. Then comes visualisation, making a mental connection between the concrete example and abstract concepts. Only once these two steps are done do you move to make the generalisation. No surprise, Singapore stands in the top rankings at the Global Competence Tests in maths like PISA.
In PleDu, I am building the concrete and pictorial phase through the video gaming experience. The abstraction is done by short, thoughtful quizzes which follow the games.
Games as Good Learning Environment
Teachers are finally pondering a puzzle; learners of all ages struggle, fail and still persist and enjoy video games. There's something special about the immersive experience of games with their tight feedback loop. In contrast, with primarily passive classroom lectures, today's education doesn't invoke such a response from learners. James Paul Gee is a pioneer in formulating a theory of why games are a great learning environment. His books on video games and learning are viral.
At PleDu, we literally live out this principle. I want to build the same learning experience for mathematics where learners will explore, pleasantly struggle and become better at maths.
Direct Instruction and Mastery Learning
Designed by Sigfried Engelmann, this framework has been lost in the popular narrative of education (it's a different story, why). But enjoys a cult following in the grassroots homeschooling movement. Engelmann's main focus was designing the right curriculum, sequence of examples (and non-examples) for outstanding learning outcomes and minimising learners' misconceptions. This framework can be summarised by Engelmann's legendary quote (paraphrasing) 'failure of a pupil to learn tells you that the learning environment was not designed well. Can't fault the student for it.' Project Follow Through was the most expensive and data-backed project in education in the US. It proved direct instruction is miles ahead in achieving learning outcomes compared to every other framework.
This idea is at the core of level designs in PleDu games. We don't design levels at random but carefully construct them in specific sequences for learning mathematics.
Understanding by Design
Created by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, this framework says the learning environment and curriculum should focus on big ideas and skills transfer. They say we should ponder essential questions that can lead learners to big ideas in the subject. Then, the curriculum and activities are worked backwards from the learning outcomes.
I got introduced to it thanks to YouTuber educator Mahesh Shenoy and couldn't be happier. I work out the design of games backwards from learning outcomes inspired by this framework. Fleshed-out game prototypes are routinely tossed out when they don't meet the learning goals.
In summary, these four frameworks can help design an extremely effective experiential learning exprience. The video game-based learning materials at PleDu are carefully designed using such standout research in pedagogy and learning. You should give it a try to see how it works!