Raghu's Weblog


An example of how an educational tool should be made

I've recently started learning synth programming(sound creation) and I have learned more in the last week than in the last 2 months of watching youtube videos and tinkering with the midi. The only thing that changed in the last week is that I started using this tool called "Syntorial" (Probably, one of the most well-crafted pieces of software that I've ever used). The reason I'm talking about it is, aside from being an extraordinary piece of software, it is also the best educational tool that I've used that exhorts self-learning in the most organic manner possible. (By organic I mean the naturally engaging aspect of an approach or the design).

There have been a lot of talks recently about tools for thought and educational reforms and whatnot, but when you see the progress in terms of how things have been taking shape, it's just been so disappointing. I mean yes, there are exceptions like brilliant, explorable explanations, mathigon, etc that strive to bring engagement to education, but the majority of the effort directed has been towards extending the traditional classroom model to the internet by sprinkling some quizzes and assignments between the mind-numbingly tedious sequences of videos. To be honest, I have heard people complain about how laborious it has been just to sit and watch "them" speak that they would rather pick up a dry 1000 page book and work through it if it were not for the associated credentials that come with some of these online courses.

And I think this is where "Syntorial" teaches all of us a lesson in the art of teaching or more appropriately learning. I mean I can only imagine the amount of effort that must have gone into crafting this tool, and I am very specific in using this word "craft" because I feel it implies everything from conception to design to development in the most artisanal manner possible. To list some of the things that set apart this tool from the herd include:

  • Most organic feedback loop possible using real-world cues (in this case your ear and the generated tone in the form of a programmable patch).
  • Most of the time is spent on doing things and discovering/learning to do things instead of listening to how to do things i.e., Better engagement.
  • Carefully constructed concise instructions that don't interfere with your practice. In fact, augment the engagement factor.
  • More importantly, it allows the user to be wrong in a time where you are penalized for being wrong, it teaches you to evolve in the most organic possible i.e., through mistakes. (If I'd similar mistakes during my college, my professor would've probably failed me and unwittingly ruined my career. Can't blame him, the system incentivizes correct answers over learning).
  • And lastly the interface lifts the design constraints that come with the traditional model, i.e., a simulated environment that increases in complexity based on your current level of understanding — This helps all of us who were not as fast or slow like our fellow classmates. It allows you to learn at your own pace and with the depth that schools could never provide.

When you couple top-notch engagement with a top-notch design and an organic feedback mechanism that instead of disincentivizing mistakes exhorts you to tinker with it and make more of such mistakes, that is when you have a perfect system for learning.

Note: This post is not sponsored by Syntorial, I was just really taken aback by the sincere efforts put by the people behind the software into encouraging learning over many online courses that we see every day that create this abominated classroom in the name of MOOC and scam you for money and profit.