Monday, August 22

Once a Booming Market, Educational Software for the PC Takes a Nose Dive

The New York Times ran a piece today about the crash and burn of the K-12 educational software market. To sum it up, once thriving, large, and profitable, the industry niche today, well, isn't.

I would be the first in line to buy any software that helps my son. But my own personal experiences with the "edutainment" software was pretty unsatisfying.

There were technical problems, production problems, quality problems, and just uninspired content problems.

Often times, the game elements, such as the cartoon rabbit, were not things to which my son could relate.

The general genre itself, the adventure game punctuated by unrelated, abstract exercises, was pretty uninteresting, especially as it was disconnected from the content.

I wrote in Learning By Doing:

Some game-based models use adventures games, a genre popularized in early computer games. Students traverse maps, either from a firstperson or top-down perspective, looking for pieces of information or performing small tasks to unlock new parts of the map.
This was the model for much of the early educational software. ("Sure Miss Squirrel, you can come into our clubhouse filled with toys and friends. But you have to identify these right four physics laws to get the key." There are also corporation examples, that might read, "Sure Mrs. Squire, you can come into the executive board room filled with stock options and great contacts, but you have to identify the right four ethics policies to get the key.")

Besides the reasons mentioned by the article, Will Wright has mentioned one reason he thought was the problem: increasingly kids are choosing/buying software, not adults.

Here are some reflections I have for the edutainment marketplace:
  • Interactivity is key, with real interactivity around the learning, not just propping up workbook style content.
  • Math is especially tricky. Math doesn't exist on its own! Math is itself a pedagogical layer, a set of tools to better understand the world. It needs to be handled as such, not futher burried under more and more layers of abstractions.
  • Game elements need to be specific to the user. Anything interjected to be "fun" has to be able to be modded very easily, almost like skins. Any student should have a choice of at least five different themes.
  • Building rewards creativity, and gives more ownership to the player.

Having said all of that, edutainment needs to be re-invented. As with American car manufacturers after producing Gremlins and Falcolns, there is so little credibility that a new brand has to emerge.


Anonymous said...

I agree it is difficult to balance the entertainment production values, with
educational content.  The game usually leans in one direction or the other.
Play Master Guru is an educational
software game
used in many New York elementary schools to help kids pass
State Standards. It leans toward education as opposed to pure entertainment, but
kids are passing the tests.

Anonymous said...

Educational software games have improved greatly over the past few years. Both of my daughters do well in school and have other video game options in our home and still enjoy educational computer software. Although sometimes i have to suggest it!

Unknown said...

amerlino is correct that kids have their own games. Who says that educational software MUST have video games with students learning in the background? The only games that I have in my Mathematics and Statistics tutorial software, math911, ( crossword puzzles, wordsearch, jumble, to help learn nomenclature. The fun of using software is discovering that you can do Math, etc. and own your own, to boot!