For the past few years, I made games that teach ideas – but, I wondered, can I make games that teach skills? Apparently, I don't have the skill of making my own decisions, so last week I sent out a poll asking you to help me decide what to make next!
The poll had four project ideas: Web Programming, Science Writing, Statistics (without the scary formulas), and Learning how to Learn. For each one, I asked: on a scale of 1 to 5, how much you liked that project idea in particular, and separately, how much you want to learn that skill regardless of my project. Also, I gave a duplicate poll to my Twitter fans so I could log their responses separately from my Patreon supporters, because my Twitter fans, as much as I love 'em, can sometimes be a bit, uh...
Anyway, 700+ survey responses later, here are the results! (shown: average ratings with 95% confidence intervals. top 4 rows are ratings on each project, bottom 4 rows are how much people want to learn that skill regardless of project)
The people have spoken: You want to LEARN HOW TO LEARN!
This'll actually be tricky to teach. Programming & statistics have many well-established rules, writing's got a few time-tested techniques, but learning? The science of learning is a baby, and the practice of learning has been muddled by schools' standardization & specialization. If I want to teach this well, I have to learn a lot more about how we learn.
Also – splitting the results by Patreon and Twitter fans, respectively:
Looking at the data, two surprises jumped out:
- Web Programming was much less popular than I'd thought! I assumed it would be a highly-desired skill, given how often I hear people screaming
LEARN TO CODE!!!Many respondents said there's already too many learn-to-code resources out there, but that doesn't explain why people also said they didn't want to learn it regardless of my project. The only explanation: I totally drank the STEM Kool-Aid, and people don't care about coding that much.
- On the flip side, Statistics was much more popular than I'd thought! That may be because I promised to teach stats "without the scary formulas" (through resampling & simulation), but people also said they wanted to learn the skill regardless of my project. So, who knows.
And two not-so-surprises:
- There's a correlation between how much people liked a project, and how much they wanted to learn the skill that project taught. At least, both have the same order: Web Programming < Science Writing < Statistics < Learning.
- Patreon & Twitter fans' responses were more or less the same. The only differences were that Twitter fans wanted to learn "web programming" more than Patreon fans, and that Patreon fans ranked "statistics" and "learning" nearly identically. But the order of preferences remained unchanged.
Finally, the poll had an optional open-ended question: what skill NOT listed here do you want to learn? I didn't do any fancy word-frequency analysis here, I just read through all the responses and counted what people said. “Hook up with girls” aside, the skills people wanted to learn are fascinating! Here were the top yearned-for skills:
- How to make explorable explanations (awww, you folks <3)
- Critical thinking (fallacies, fact-checking, avoiding "fake news")
- Time management
- Persuasion (especially persuading someone on political issues)
- Artificial intelligence / Machine learning / Neural networks
These are dang good suggestions! I really hope to make explorables about these one day – or better yet, someone else will beat me to it, so the rest of you don't have to wait.
Here's my dirty little secret: I'm still learning.
It was only while making Crowds that I learnt about complex contagion theory, which ended up being a core part of the final explorable. It was only while making Trust that I learnt about game theory strategies like Detective and Simpleton, who ended up in the explorable's main cast of characters. And – as I hinted at earlier – it's only going to be while I make this project about learning that I'm going to learn what it really means to learn.
I've had boring teachers. I've had inspiring teachers. One of the core differences is that the bad teachers monologue at you like they know it all, but the good teachers instill curiosity in their students because they themselves stay curious. They're always trying new things, always genuinely interested in kids' ideas, always "still learning". The best teachers know they're students, too.