November Design Challenge: Micro Learning Futures

Concept #12

From infancy we begin learning our mother tongue through trial and error. Combining words and creating basic sentences, and even if we get words out of place or mess up the grammar of a sentence, we are continually learning in the process.

Most language learning programs facilitated by technology aim to teach words or grammar rules but don’t encourage this kind of experimentation with formulating your own sentences.

It would be interesting to incorporate writing into language learning. Like you are given a set of words and possibly a grammar rule or tense and asked to formulate a sentence or two using those words. Being able to quickly formulate a written sentence in a foreign language would be very helpful later in both speaking and thinking in that language.

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Concept #13

Building off concept #12, it could be interesting if the system not only allows for the learner to write their own sentences but also has the ability to detect common grammar errors and mistakes.

But there would be a problem, if you show mistakes immediately when they submit their sentence it can get very discouraging very fast because they might be making small mistakes each time.

So I think that it could introduce a new type of language-learning exercise where it shows you a sentence that you’ve written in the past and asks you to identify and fix where you may have made a mistake. This reframes the problem from “darn, I got this wrong” into more of a detective game where you have to conciously think through grammar rules and revise your own writing.

On the technical side, something like this would be helpful:

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Concept #14

One of the most fabled memory techniques is called a memory palace where you place bits of information or memory around a physical location that you’re familiar with (e.g. the rooms in your house), and then you walk through that place in your imagination to remember. It is not typically technique often used by laypersons but by memory champions and ultra-dedicated language learners, etc.

It occurs to me that using augmented reality on our phones, we could create a similar process of placing memories words (in the case of language learning) around the world. I imagine having an app where I can point my phone at an object in my house and type in the word for that object in english, for example, “p-l-a-n-t” and then the app will place the word for “plant” in that location in the language that I’m learning.

It could also utilise concept #12 and ask you to write a sentence in the foreign language using the newly learnt word for “plant”.

And for a community aspect of language learning, there could be designated “memory palace” locations around the city where labels are shared between all users. Like, you could walk into a mall and see clothing words in the clothing store, different shoe words in the shoe store, and technology words in the tech store.

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Concept #15

I typically detest gamification in learning apps. It always seems very gimmicky and if the app isn’t fun to use without gamification, I personally feel that my mind sees through all the points and achievements and gets bored quickly.

I am reminded by a common game-design advice when making platformer video games. To focus first on making the movement and jump mechanics feel fun, even in a blank room before adding any other gameplay elements.

But I wonder if gamification can be used for good… In what ways could gamifying something reframe how we see that thing in a good way.

Take concept #12 for example, imagine that every time you write a sentence in the app it rewards you points, maybe more points for longer or more thought-out sentences, or for using a wider range of words. And then when you gain enough points you “level up”. Now, by itself that would be kind of silly, but I imagine that every time you level up, you might gain a new grammar rule or language learning tip. This could reframe grammar learning from “oh I should probably get around to learning these grammar rules and tenses” to “ooh, I get to learn this new grammar rule if I write a few more sentences”

I’m not entirely sure that this kind of gamification is much better than the alternative, but it is certainly interesting to think of the ways game-like elements can reframe the context of an online situation.

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Ooooh this is a very interesting line of inquiry. I think game design had a lot of lessons valuable for learning design.

I really like the movement metaphor. What’s the movement in learning? Assimilating a new concept? Or executing with it?

Another thing that comes to mind is the idea of depth vs complexity. See:

One way to think about constructing learning environments is enabling the maximum depth with the minimum amount of complexity for a given topic. Anyways, just jotting quick here, will keep thinking on this!


There’s a fine line when thinking about minimizing complexity. Minimizing complexity too far leads to small factual tidbits which tend to be antithetical to really learning about a topic. For example, 98% of videos about quantum mechanics repeat the exact same concept with slightly different wording and levels of video production (not ones, not zeroes, but both at once!)

Now while some people are very good at distilling very complex topics into something more understandable without sacrificing much in the way informational depth, it tends to be that depth and complexity walk hand-in-hand (or directly proportional as the scientists would say). I think perhaps that it might be better to think about how to construct a learning environment that makes it easier to work through complexity without hitting up against steep learning curves or walls of jargon…

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@azlen I’d love to hear about your thoughts now that this adventure has run its course. Were there any ideas you kept wanting to come back to? Or constraints the limited your thinking? I’d be interested in reflections on both learning futures and the design challenge structure itself!