Smart.fm and educational gaming

Regular readers will know that I expect educational gaming to eventually grow to be bigger than recreational gaming. We consume an immense amount of education throughout our lives and the classroom method, which is currently the main formal education system, is woefully inefficient. We already have the technology to do massively better.

Gaming is brilliant for learning because it has the task/reward cycle which comes naturally to the human brain. Additionally, as I have said in previous articles, because educational games are on computers they track the student’s progress, so there is no need for exams.

Smart.fm takes this one step further. It tracks the student’s progress and presents material at the optimum moment for the most efficient learning process according to the Ebbinghaus Curve. Their system of spaced rehearsal ensures the absolute most efficient absorption of knowledge over time. Take a look and you will see that it is individually tailored by feedback loop and that it uses computer processing power to apply the science. This whole methodology would be simply impossible in a classroom but is straightforward for a video game to achieve.

To me it is immensely frustrating that we have the means to massively improve our formal education system yet we persevere with the archaic relic that is the classroom.

9 comments ↓

#1 Kaziarl on 04.07.10 at 5:14 pm

I think I’ve heard of this previously, when there was still very little to it. Nice find though, and I agree that this seems like it would be much more efficient then the way classrooms are today.

#2 docred on 04.07.10 at 5:29 pm

I think online and gaming educational methods and tools are absolutely great – but I do still feel that some traditional influence is needed, especially in secondary school. I grew up in the traditional system of course, but have used pure online educational facilities since then. I know I am departing slightly from the gaming/educational theme you mention, but I think game based educational methods could almost be considered a subset of online or distance education. If you stop and look at some of the games we have seen over the past couple decades, the possibilities are staggering. If you think about it, how much could you learn from even a traditional game like Capitalism or Capitalism II and similar. Even wargames, if historically accurate, can provide a lot of traditional information that students will be more enthusiastic about, not to mention general or abstract concepts like strategy, teamwork, etc. Games in general are amazing in a sense…I remember playing darts a lot when I was young, and being able to add and subtract three digit numbers much quicker for it :) Dungeons and Dragons (tabletop, not video game) encouraged a number of my friends to be better readers. Video games add a whole new dimension to the posibilities.

In most cases, I think a teacher still has a place though, more as a guide perhaps than as a strict director of studies, especially when it comes to some students who have difficulty in focusing :)

As an aside, we are putting are little guy in a Montessori school for his first year in place of Kindergarten. Again, while not game based and oriented, they do have an interesting philosophy and a slightly different method with the teacher as more of a guide.

#3 Steve A on 04.07.10 at 7:08 pm

Recall of Memory [active recall or passive recognition] retention is only one aspect of learning. Memory Regurgitation is not rational thought.

Famous scene in the paper chase when Professor Kingfield’s questions a student with photographic memory, but the student is unable to rationalize and apply principles of one case a different case. The student gives up law school after realizing he had used photographic fact regurgitation his entire academic career to slide by.

So in conclusion, this system applies only to regurgitation, and it seems to me this type of system would need to balanced against an equally effective system of rational anaylsis and application to form the basis of a system worth employing.

The ability to regurgitate and recall facts is useless without the EQUAL or superior ability to rationally apply the information in practice.

#4 docred on 04.07.10 at 7:29 pm

Darned good post on the difference between memorization and understanding Steve :) Easy for someone with good retention to parrot things back, the real test is whether they can apply what they have learned in real world situations and adapt the knowledge they have.

#5 Kaziarl on 04.07.10 at 7:45 pm

@Steve
What I remember from elementary school through high school (Not sure how this translates to where your from) is exactly what you just describe. The endless regurgitation of memorized facts. This just seems like it could streamline that process, and I think if used correctly in a school setting could allow for the development of skills to actually apply the information.

#6 MadTinkerer on 04.08.10 at 8:14 am

@Steve: Memorized facts are the foundation of being able to develop skills. How can you write without first memorizing the alphabet? How can you correctly express addition if you don’t know that + is “the plus sign”? How can you know you are learning a subject correctly if you are unfamiliar with the vocabulary?

As we grow older we lose our ability to simply absorb new things without context, and the ability to put things in context and apply them becomes more and more important. But that doesn’t mean that the many, many, MANY different subjects have any less jargon associated with each of them, and does not diminish the importance of those unique terms.

So when it comes to the start of learning a new subject: there’s no getting around the need to learn new terms and, to begin with, being able to recall those terms. Being able to say “Two apples plus two apples is four apples” is nice, but if the teacher needs you to write “4 apples” you need to know what “4″, “a”, “p”, “l”, “e”, and “s” look like, and how to write them, before you figure out what order those symbols go in.

And that seems to be what Smart.fm helps with.

#7 Steve A on 04.08.10 at 6:12 pm

Focusing exclusively on fact regurgitation and retention in a computer learning program by definition requires that the software be balanced with some type of learning plan to deal with processing and application of knowledge in rational thought. It would be MUCH more difficult to program that [so most likely they won't try], and would require the computer program [if this was to be done within the program] to itself be able to strategically learn from and adapt to the student’s responses with an artificial intelligence algorhythm.

Basically by building an integrated learning computer station, you are constructing an artificial professor.

It’s a worthy goal, the software as it is seems a bit of a gimmic, but it could grow into something worthwhile if they enhance the educational dimensions.

#8 JulesLt on 04.10.10 at 4:19 pm

Steve – and I suspect a goal as doomed as all other efforts to construct AI.

I suspect that you could construct software that could promote and test the application of knowledge, through the use of ‘like’ questions (i.e. that test your ability to infer or reason an answer from supplied information – much like IQ tests or cryptic crosswords) – but I’m not sure if there is a good body of research on that, whereas there is genuine science on memorisation.

I also know some teachers already using tools like this in language teaching – vocabulary tests are not really very interesting things for teachers to do, either, and well-suited for this kind of automation (particularly if the software can tune itself to the child’s pace).

But I don’t see it replacing the classroom – there are plenty of cases where pair and group work is going to be a lot more effective.

#9 Steve A on 04.11.10 at 4:43 am

Does the Ebbinghaus Curve have diminishing results over time if used repeatedly as this program would?

@JulesLt Yes a multi-dimensional adaptive teaching AI would be awesome, but it may be beyond our reach. I do wonder if at least a strategic logic routine could be applied response inputs to mimic the effect. Also biofeedback monitoring would prove useful for example to tell when the student was fatigued. Eventually, as technology advances, how about a cybernetic learning implant! Resistance is futile!

It’s not my area of expertise.

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