Amy Jo Kim’s Game Thinking got me thinking…

The video series that Amy Jo Kim has available for free (I hope you read this before it stops being available, limited time offer!), is especially thought for innovative entrepreneurs who are developing products the world hasn’t seen before. As usual, my mind started wondering what this could be like for an educational setting. What if the innovative product is my class? How can I apply this?

In this article, I will discuss ideas I’ve realized I was using from this framework of Amy Jo Kim, as well as new ideas I will potentially use in the future. The first video of this video series explains what she’s found are three habits that successful innovators share. The habits are:

  1. Find & leverage your super-fans – then expand from that base
  2. Tinker, prototype & assume your first idea might not be right
  3. Build & test your core product experience from the inside out

The first habit comes directly from “Crossing the Chasm” of Geoffrey Moore and focuses on the fact that for something new to take off, it needs the innovators and early adopter’s needs and desires to be considered. Most of the habits are counter-intuitive, for me this was especially so regarding the fact that if you are addressing a market, this habit means you should initially forget about more than 80% of them to focus on these early people. In education, think of the students who are willing to try something new, who are particularly unsatisfied with how they currently learn. Those selected few who have even tried something else. In the second video, she explains how to find these. The good thing is that within a classroom the audience is relatively “captive” so this process can be accelerated a bit.

The second habit, when you think about it, is especially hard. It means assuming, from the start, that what we think might be wrong. Especially when we are teaching something, we are teaching it because, at least in general, we think it’s true. It has the “think like a scientist” approach. This means to use what we think to be true, simply as a hypothesis and go ahead and test if it is true… or false. Perhaps the hard thing here is not to take things personally and not feel like a failure if something doesn’t work out as expected. It is a learning experience (where better than a classroom?) and now we know we need to go for something new!

The third one is embedded deeper into game design and is related to its stages. Let me clarify these stages (which is what video three is all about). She explains a four-stage mastery path, that starts with discovery. Think of a game that you played, could be “hide and seek”, at some point you didn’t know this game existed. Go back to that time, how did you find out? Or any other game, but don’t continue to read until you remember one! Got it? Well, when you found out, that is discovery. Perhaps a cousin told you “let’s play hide and seek!” and then you probably got curious and asked what it is about. What happened next was the onboarding, the basics were explained to you and if they were kind enough, you probably played the simplest version first so you could get a feel of it. This is the second stage, onboarding. After that, you played it a few more times that day and others, by then you were in what Amy calls the habit-building phase, which contains the core product experience that is the basis of this phase. There you just play and enjoy the experience because you like it! Finally there is a mastery stage, not all of us went through it in hide and seek, but think of those kids who started creating new versions of the game, who were the ones to pull people into playing, perhaps participated as a sort of referee, or even the older kid who organizes the younger ones when playing. So, the habit of successful innovators is to begin designing their innovation on stage three, to get the habit-building phase right before anything else. Here is where the early adopters play a fundamental role, as they are the ones who are willing to help from the start.

How does this habit relate to education? Well, the first application I’m able to see is thinking of your class in the same way. For instance, if you are thinking of your course for the first time or on making some changes, don’t begin the design of it by thinking how your students will find out about it, in many cases they don’t even need to, it is just mandatory. But even if it is something they need to discover, the good practice Amy proposes is not to start there. Don’t start out either by thinking how you will introduce them to the subject, what jokes you can make in the first class or how you will explain what you will cover in the course. That is like starting a book or any text by the introduction. What she proposes is to start by thinking of what will the students find interesting, will want to come back to, after they’ve gone through those phases, which you’ll think about later. So to tie this up with the early adopter’s habit, what is it that those who love doing things differently in class will love about your new approach? Focus on that!

Since the last video of the video series isn’t launched as I write this post, I will finish up by offering my insights on the second one, the third is covered previously. Here she talks about finding your ideal customers, but my mind is set on finding ideal learners. This is very tied to the idea in the business world of finding your “avatar”, your ideal buyer, customer or the likes. The first step is to think about that learner. Your class probably has already a certain profile, but within that profile, dig deeper, which kind of student that fits such profile would be ideal for something new you want to do? Say you want to record some extra videos to help those who might be faster or more advanced learners to delve deeper and remain engaged. All this while not losing those who are not ready for it. Your ideal learner for this new idea needs to be a top performer, who is curious about your subject and perhaps wants to know more than what you offer in a regular class, right? Well, this is a proposal, you have to go as deep as you can to figure out who your ideal learner is, within your current circumstances of course! If you are teaching at a very expensive private school, your ideal learner probably shouldn’t be one whose family is struggling economically. Yes, it’s an extreme example, but makes the point clearer I hope. Then Amy goes into how to identify these people, through a three-stage process and through a series of questions. The three stages are screening (this is probably something you can already do with the information you have of your students), interview and playtest. She proposes some key types of questions for the first two stages and then to playtest with a simple version of your idea (what entrepreneurs like to call minimum viable product or MVP) and see how it goes. This final part really requires us to use the scientist hat, as many of the things we thought initially might be disproven at this stage and we would need to try something different.

My main intention here is to offer you educational lenses to use for these ideas Amy goes through. If you want more details, you can find, currently, the videos here, but she has already warned that they won’t be there for too long! So if you’re reading this, you probably want to go there as quickly as possible!

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