The Puzzle School: Step 1 = Find The Love, Start With Progress

Posted on March 21, 2012

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At the heart of The Puzzle School, or really any educational effort I want to be involved in, would have to an environment that people love, a place people desperately want to spend time in.

The easiest way to ensure that this is happening is to remove all requirements. You can’t require students to do anything, otherwise you don’t know whether they’re doing it because you’ve asked or because they truly want to.

Of course this will likely lead to students playing video games all day because video games are fun. This is where it becomes a great challenge for educators. You need to create an environment that is more enjoyable than video games. You’re not going to win on pure short-term fun, video games are very good at that, but you can win on short-term fun plus learning.

People desperately want to learn. They want to grow and become more knowledgeable. If you had a pill that would allow someone to become fluent in any foreign language instantly, you would be a billionaire. You would sell them by the truck load. It’s not that people don’t want to learn, it’s that they think it’s too hard or that they’re not capable of achieving success and therefore not worth the time and effort.

So the key is to make people feel like they are making progress. Progress is one of the most addicting and motivating things in the world. If you feel like you’re putting in very little effort, but you’re getting better at something, you’ll continue with that as fast as you possibly can. Such a feeling is far more rewarding than simply having fun playing a video game. Video games also try to advantage of the progress principle, but most people recognize that the specific skills you’re working on in video games tend to be contrived and have limited value in the real world. People would much rather develop skills that they see as valuable in the real world.

To go back to the foreign language example. If you created a way for people to engage with a foreign language and recognize that they were getting better at it very quickly then you would likely have to tear people away from that activity in order to eat or sleep. It would be that engaging.

That’s what I’m striving for with The Puzzle School, or any educational efforts I’m working on. It’s not easy to figure out how to achieve this for all the various subjects (it may even be impossible), but the closer we can get to giving people a consistent sense of progress as they learn something new, the more likely they will want to engage in that activity or something more superficial, such as video games.

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