CREATIVE SOLUTIONS SPECIALIST / ARTIST / EDUCATOR
L&D: Educational Pinball
Posted 5th February 2018
By Mark Nathan Willetts

Under certain circumstances there is a chance that an entirely motivated, invested, and prepared learner could effectively learn from a simple text book alone; however another learner who has knowledge gaps, and isn't fully motivated or as invested, could very well struggle through the study of subject matter that is purely delivered to them as written text.

Every learning tool has limitations and advantages that will define the way in which they can be effectively utilised. For example, text alone may not allow somebody to visualise something in the same way that an image would, whilst a format such as video could actually allow somebody to recognise the way that components interact spatially through a means that text alone could never convey.

Educational Pinball is a metaphor that I have used successfully in the past, which can enable educators to effectively explain to: clients, SMEs, stakeholders and others, the importance of blending the correct combination of educational tools that will enable a learner to reach a required learning outcome.

The image above represents a pinball table which has had the majority of its elements stripped out, so that all that remains are: the user controlled paddles, a strip of bumpers at the bottom from which the information/points can be gained, and a hole at the top which represents a learning goal through which a person will embed information within their memories - as well as any understanding that has been conveyed to them, or understanding which they have built for themselves.

Of course within the representation of that particular pinball table a person with enough motivation, could try, and try and try again, until they gain enough points from those lower targets; all the time waiting until they can eventually hit the correct metaphorical trajectory of the ball that will propel it into the learning goal at the top.

And yet for most people such a repetative learning approach would likely take up too much time and also result in an insipid and boring experience that could affect a learner's retention of the knowledge; and which may even fail to engage a learner significantly enough to prevent them from giving up altogether.

Take for example "death by PowerPoint", which I am sure most of us will have experienced at one point or another; a yawn inspiring delivery of education which can literally cause people to fall asleep. Of course, from an educational standpoint the key pointers from the subject matter may actually all be present within the presentation, and yet smiling pictures of people in suits and flying arrows zooming around a screen may not be engaging or even relevant enough for a learner to learn from or pay attention.

Meanwhile a monotonous voice working through a prepared script, may itself prove to be insufficient for engaging an audience. And even if a presenter did have the charisma and engaging presentation style that would allow them to engage an audience regardless of an ineffective deck of slides, there could still prove to be a missed opportunity for the usage of pertinent images and animations that could have provided further insights for the learners, or allowed them a stronger potential for recalling the full extent of what they needed to know at a later date.

The fact is that education is a complex art, and so as educational practitioners we must be careful with our choices and make good use of the possibilities that we have at our disposal.

If we represent the learning process as a build up of points, then we can easily recognise how adding the correct type of elements in the correct places within the flow of a learning experience can allow for a chain reaction that will strengthen a person's understanding and provide them with a greater chance of long term recall.

Such combinations are essential for any type of learning, because if a learner symbolically fails to gain enough points, then regardless of them reaching a symbolic learning goal by passing a multiple choice quiz or any other form of assessment, they could still lack the fully embedded understanding which will allow them to use the knowledge in a functional capacity, or even for recalling the necessary insights or information at a future date when it is needed.

Please note that my initial version of this article was also originally published on E-learning Industry