Montessori and Interactive Media
Meet the Italian chef: Dr. Montessori
Maria Montessori (born August 31, 1870) thought she was going to be a doctor. We went on to become the first female MD (Medical Doctor) in Italy. But she became a worldwide celebrity for her work in the field of education, instead.
The Montessori methods of teaching and learning are deeply based in constructivism — with the notion of putting the child in the center of the learning process. She believed that you should let children teach themselves by putting them in an environment that will allow them to achieve that growth or in other words, to become autodidactic.
She was a staunch believer that teachers should work to create this environment.
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, the children are now working as if I did not exist.”
Just like teachers, interactive multi-media should let their users learn to play not with paragraphs of text or long introductions but by the creation of an environment that allows the user to learn how to use it on their own.
Montessori’s once said, “He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work…” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 25) or in simpler terms, “Busy hands equals busy minds”. Montessori was a firm believer that giving a person or a player the ability to learn by doing was integral in a successful teaching experience.
Examples of Montessori Ideas in Interactive Media
I’ve played many video games with Montessori concepts baked into the design.
Because there are new rules for the player to learn, designers have had to learn how to evolve their tutorials and gameplay.
Here are some examples of games that have Montessori-like concepts.
Busy Shapes is simple and has the player teach themselves how to play by themselves. The game is by far one of the greatest games for showing an example of an autodidactic teaching method. In the video below, we can see a child learn how to play.
They progress through each level with little help from the game other than auditory cues of encouragement that do not distract the player. The game also follows Montessori’s method of not allowing the participant to get too frustrated. We see this when it seems the player is fairly stumped on one part or another and the game pushes them past that level.
Unlike Busy Shapes, Journey takes Montessori’s work and seamlessly combines it with fantastical visuals and subtle music to create an experience that feels quite unlike any other journey you’ve been on. The game still uses Montessori’s teachings by allowing the player to figure out how to proceed by themselves but the way Journey tells its story without dialogue and only with the actions that the player does sets an intriguing and hypnotic mood. For a game without dialogue it has no problems teaching the player how to progress and it in itself is a satisfying reward for that progress.
If you ever wondered if there was a game that could make all other games seem easy to learn by comparison then look no further than Crusader Kings 2. Some people insist you need a mentor to help you learn the vast quantities you need know in order to play a successful game. Despite having many fans, this game has a fairly high barrier of entry because of its difficulty to learn.
The tutorials for the game go against even basic Montessorian methods by just throwing a large wall of text at the player, like the one below, whenever they click on any of the menus for the first time. Crusaders Kings 2 is said to be made for an audience of college aged history majors but it may just be that those are the people most likely to be able to shift through all of the text and not give up. The game could really have used some of Montessori’s methods to appeal to a wider audience.
Mobile games have a reputation of being less complex as games on other platforms but they don’t have to be. I have played many mobile games that had enticing mechanics and new ideas put into their games to create a worthwhile experience but one huge problem I see with many of them is the tutorials. Not only are many of the tutorials forced for some reason but they also drag you along with no freedom to learn about the mechanics that you wish to learn about. Many have steered far from the full pages of text tutorials that haunt some games to this day but having tutorials that takes away control from the player is less than ideal. Most of these games could try a more simple approach and create an autodidactic experience and many do but a lot do not as well. As a platform they can be the greatest and worst at incorporating Montessori’s methods. Some of the games just seem to be there to flood the market with enough bad games that they even they can earn money. But other games show great ingenuity in their easy to comprehend tutorials, such as Cut the Rope, which became very popular for phones and tablets.
Montessori’s methods for teaching have spread throughout media and have become so ingrained in some that the methods are part of the media’s core. She has lead a revolution in teaching and she has also laid the groundwork for many future innovations.