Simon is completing his second year at the Web Science Institute (WSI) at Southampton where he is working towards a PhD in Web Science on “Increasing engagement and learning performance in educational apps”.

We spoke to Simon about his interest in enhanced learning techniques and how he hopes to contribute towards improved learning experiences at a time when many are relying so heavily on remote and on-line learning approaches. 

Q. Simon tell us about your research topic

A. Well the research is concerned with the design of approaches/elements which increase both the enjoyment and efficiency of the e-learning experience through the creation of a state of “flow”. When we are in state of flow we are typically less distracted, more receptive to the content/material and typically report enjoying the experience more than when not in flow.

Q. Are you looking to make learning more enagaging/enjoyable through gamification?

A. Well thats just the point. Gamification appears to be partly distracting: drawing attention to another aspect of the experience rather than focussing on the experience itself so users are enjoying the gamerather than enjoying the learning. This can be reflected in the speed and depth of learning and ties the sucess of the learning to the sucess of the gamified elements.

Q. How are you testing your approach?

A. Whilst the final approach can be expanded to many factors and combinations I have started in the pilot phase with a simple A/B matrix in which four groups are exposed (or not) to a learning design feature giving rise to AB, A’B, AB’, A’B’ (A and B, NOT A and B, A and NOT B, NOT A and NOT B).

We then test the participants for the length and regularity of engagement and adminisiter tests around the learning and retention. In this way we have a simple model to evaluate the impact of a single feature or feature combination on engagement and performance.

The first phase has used local volunteers whilst the main study will involve releasing the app to the Google Play store to recuit a much larger number of participants.

Q. Have any of the results or insights surprised you so far?

A. One thing which did surprise me was the existence of a large body of education/learning theory which does not seem to be used or implemented in practice. For example, spaced learning was a theory put forward by Ebbinghaus in 1885 and which even today is not always implemented in learning apps.

Q. How will your research continue?

A. Once we have results from a wider Google Play experiment (based on Spanish Language learning) we will review applying any insights to other areas of learning and app design.


Q.  Have any aspects of Web Science been useful here?

A. The most significant aspect of Web Science has been the interdisciplinarity – the opportunity to work with aspects of education coming from a background in Maths and Psychology. That interdisciplinarity is so important.

Good luck with the rest of your research and thanks for taking part.