4 Lessons Elearning Can Take From The Explosively Popular “Draw Something” App

Nick Grantham is an Australian educator living and working in Ireland. With a background in education, engineering and e-learning, he founded Fractus Learning to connect people with a shared passion for technology and how it can bring education to life.

Draw Something

It’s a dog… No, cow… No, a Furby! Conjuring memories of the laughter, tears and broken friendships shared in the 1985 classic PictionaryDraw Something has set a new benchmark in mobile gaming. Launched only a few months ago, OMGPOP‘s instant hit has caught the eye of more than just bored gamers.

If you have not yet been caught up in the hype, Draw Something is an extremely addictive, free mobile game for both iOS and Android. Based on a social gaming foundation, the game pitches friends in a battle of drawing prowess where artistic flair is judged on whether competitors can guess what has been drawn. Just seven weeks after release the game had been downloaded 35 million times and was recently acquired by social gaming giant Zynga.

So what is it that clicked with users, making Draw Something the huge overnight success? And what principles of this game should we be analyzing to bring this level of engagement into elearning? Here are four key concepts that have driven the app’s success and a look at how these should be implemented in game based learning.

 

Social Gaming

No one likes to play alone. Playing tennis against a friend is much more enjoyable, rewarding and engaging than hitting a ball against the wall. These same principles apply just as well to digital gaming and has been the key to success for Draw Something.

You will have to excuse my geekiness, but it was not that long ago that I was lugging a huge desktop PC to friends’ houses just to play multi-player games. Advances in mobile communication and technology mean that this type of physical hurdle is no longer an obstacle. Connecting with friends is as simple as clicking their name on Facebook or Game Center. This means it is now as easy (if not easier from a development point of view) to play against our friends as it is to play alone. Playing against real people not only means real responses and little repetition, it also encourages our natural inclination to socialize with other human beings.

Educational games need to take a lead on the social aspects of gaming. There are very few good examples of collaborative and multi-player games when it comes to elearning. With such a drive on collaboration and working together in the classroom, gaming is a perfect opportunity to push these skills to students. Not only does the collaborative nature of social gaming improve the impact of educational content, it also creates a much more engaging game for students to learn from. Many educational games still follow a rigid and formatted script, where students go through the motions of learning. By adding social elements to games, students can learn by communicating, interacting and teaching their peers.

 

Visual Learning

One aspect of gaming that has changed dramatically in the past few years is the way we learn to play the game. Once upon a time, games were delivered with a fat book of complex instruction. This has all changed, with game designers working very hard to make game-play intuitive and incorporate playing guides into the story. Draw Something is a perfect example of this strategy and implementing visual learning. Granted, the game is not overly complex, but on launching the app, it is quickly apparent how to play. Short instructions built into game-play help get users get started and from that point on fun takes over.

In education, the learning curve of a game can make or break student engagement. If a game does not catch the users attention immediately, there are too many competing games out there that will. Educational games need to compete with the best games out there. Students will not learn from games we force them to play, they need to play because they want to. To be competitive in the gaming space, educational games need be just as addictive as any other and this decision is made in the first minutes of play.

 

Gamification

A very hot topic, “gamification” is the process of turning unappealing tasks into engaging and fun activities. Whether this is through awarding points, badges or prizes, the goal is to turn a task into something the user is inspired to complete. Draw Something uses a point system and competitiveness between friends to drive engagement in its game-play. It would not be that much fun to just draw and guess pictures, but as soon as the element of competition is introduced, the game takes on a whole new form.

We have all used the concepts of gamification in the classroom by offering “rewards” for certain achievements. This same concept needs to be applied to games in education. A great example of this is being done by the Khan Academy. As students complete lessons and activities on the system, they are awarded badges to mark their success. Although valueless in monetary or tangible terms, the badges offer a goal that drives student  to succeed in their learning.

 

Fun

Perhaps the simplest concept to understand and the hardest to implement, games must be fun. Educational games must be something that students play for pleasure, not as a chore. Games need to make you laugh, get you excited and keep you coming back to play again and again. This is perhaps the most important feature that Draw Something managed to nail, driving it quickly to the top of the most downloaded apps in the App Store. The game takes something we all enjoy doing, drawing, and rolled an already proven formula of guessing around it. Not rocket science, no million dollar development budget needed, but fun nonetheless.

This is something that needs to be embraced by both big corporate educational developers as well as small time hobbyists. Focus on the game first. If a game is built on an enjoyable concept, then high-tech graphics, celebrity voices and million dollar advertising budgets all fall second to game-play.

 

What apps and games do you see in the market right now that are leading the pack? And what games are best using these concepts to promote education and learning?

 

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  • teachingtimes

    I appreciate your article. As a classroom teacher it is difficult to disagree with your points. In an effort to fully engage all learners, my only concern with this app, or the clone of it on Chrome, is limiting outsiders, so to speak, in to protect my students from off color chatting or offensive user names. Case and point, I was just playing the Chrome version of this and several players were exchanging number to have phone sex. What suggestions do you have to create private forums or games to “shelter” my students, therefore, causing me to not want to or be able to use this in class.

    • FractusLearning

      Thanks for the comment teachingtimes. I agree that the app may not be suitable for students. In fact, given the random nature of pairing in the game, I would not recommend it for classroom use (as it currently stands). The article was more focused on the applying the vastly successful concepts of the game to educational gaming (that can sometimes be a little stale).

      I am not aware of any tool or apps that can limit the network or pool of players. Perhaps another reader can help with this? What I would suggest, and often partake in myself, is contacting the developers and suggesting a feature. I know it can sound a little much, but most developers love hearing from users and get many ideas from imaginative customers. Chances are, if you are looking for education filtering, then many others are too, and there is the potential to open a whole new market for them.

      You should be able to contact the development team at: https://getsatisfaction.com/omgpop

      All the best.
      Nick