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.
Whilst a presentation of information may very well cover all of the key pointers from the subject matter, it does not mean that it can enable every member of the audience to learn in a timely manner without an inclusion of certain tools and guidance.
And yet do not mistake the term “tools” as being directly relative to the digital tools that could be utilised; because the design of a good reflective question, an appropriate usage of feedback and many other staples of education could be the tipping point between success and failure.
The fact is that education is a complex art, and so as educational practitioners we must be careful with our decisions to make good use of the possibilities that we have at our disposal to craft a sensible learning experience.
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 many learning scenarios, 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
Mark Nathan Willetts is a creative entrepreneur from Nottingham, England. His artistic work has been exhibited internationally. And he has worked as an educator and senior editor at companies such as Experian and Velawoods.
"We must continually grow until our ideas converge for a better future"
- Mark Nathan Willetts