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'The classroom hasn't evolved since the printing press was invented' says top Angry Bird

How to approach and control "gamification"? This was one of the big questions asked at the October 2014 Moscow Open Innovations forum (opens in new tab) in a panel discussion entitled "Educational Innovation - New Models for Non-Stop Studying", moderated by Michael Stopford, executive vice president, Weber Shandwick, and featuring Alexander Laszlo, 57th president, International Society of the Systems Sciences, and Angry Birds' "Mighty Eagle" Peter Vesterbacka.

"Edutainment", Laszlo said, is entertainment with an educational element, while gamification comes from design components that are specifically designed to make learning fun. The arrival of gamification hence signals a move from storytelling, to story playing, providing an unprecedented level of learning engagement, and a distinct break from the modern classroom. With the continual encroachment of games on the classroom, the old model of teacher-tells-student, student writes-it-down-in-exam could undergo significant changes.

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"The classroom hasn't evolved since the printing press was invented," said Peter Vesterbacka (pictured below), chief marketing officer and "Mighty Eagle" of Rovio Entertainment Ltd. - the company behind the mobile smash hit game Angry Birds. After two-and-a-half years of development, Rovio has created Angry Birds Playground, an educational package for 3- to 6-year olds, in partnership with the University of Helsinki in Finland. The initiative is already being used in Finnish schools, with an agreement in place for its use in schools in China.

"We're not fans of spending all your life in school," he continued, arguing that Finnish children enjoy a healthy balance of short school days, and long evenings for play, whereas some other cultures have very long school days, which take the fun out of learning, and to some extent childhood itself.

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Sanna Lukander, vice president of book publishing at Rovio, said to the BBC (opens in new tab) in September: "With small children, the Finnish approach to education is very much play-oriented."

"These characters and their world seemed to inspire children. You can't not think about how you might motivate children to do more than play," she added.

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There is a "dark side" to all this though, Laszlo pointed out. "[Mobile technology] can connect us very meaningfully... but it can also disconnect us. The way in which it is designed is important."

"Zombification" is a term already pasted on smartphone users, our app-induced stupor causing us to resemble shuffling creatures of the undead. The challenge is to "interact meaningfully", Laszlo posed. "It's up to us as designers to make sure it connects people with life," he concluded.

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A further challenge, not posed by the panel on this occasion, will be resistance from a parental generation that associates gaming with timewasting – and Rovio will no doubt be keen to shake off Angry Birds' addictive and antisocial associations. Somewhere, a gap will have to be bridged between each generation's attitude to gaming, until we reach a point where parents themselves have studied through gamified learning, that is.

To this end, Rovio has asserted how Angry Birds Playground is an educational environment, not just a game, and exists within the classroom, alongside a teacher, peer interaction and a structure of activities.

The full panel consisted of:

  • Michael Stopford, executive vice president, Weber Shandwick
  • Alexander Laszlo, 57th president and board of trustees chair, International Society for the Systems Sciences
  • Pavek Luksha, professor of practice, Skolkovo Moscow School of Management
  • Natalya Tsarevskaya-Dyakina, managing director, Synergy Innovations Fund
  • Peter Vesterbacka, chief marketing officer and "Mighty Eagle", Rovio Entertainment
  • Kelsey Whelan, leading manager, Draper's University online school

Image credit: One Man And His Blog (opens in new tab)