Start Simple and Grow

The Mistake: Requiring Students to Type

One of the major mistakes that we made when we launched Quill Grammar is that we required all students to write complete sentences. Our rationale for requiring students to write complete sentences is that this would help the students learn the grammatical concept within the context in which the word is being used. While tis notion is a valid one, the problem we found was that students have extremely weak typing skills.

My assumption, going into the product’s development, is that most students would have decent typing skills. It became quickly apparent that many students do not have adequate typing skills. However, we did not react to this information quickly. Instead we focused on developing out our teacher facing LMS, rather than the student facing app. While we made helpful changes for teachers, we did not adequately handle the elephant in the room. Instead, we held on to this writing mode as our principal differentiator from our competitor.

What We Learned: Start Simple and Grow

We were (unknowingly) trying to change behavior by insisting upon typing.  When you are changing behavior, you need to do so very slowly and carefully. The behavior we were going for was to have students typing full sentences. Since students already hand write full sentences, it seemed simple to ask students to type full sentences. However, this simply wasn’t the case.

Rather, we needed to meet our students where they were at, and then bring them to the place we want to them to be. Our students were at the point where they could not type. We needed to bring them to the point where they could type, and then we could naturally ask them to type out full sentences.

What does this look like? We start with a mode where students only type in the word. At some point, either at the beginning or the middle of the experience, we asses the student on their typing skills. If the student has received a certain WPM, we then push them into writing full sentences. If the student doesn’t meet that threshold, they continue writing only individual words. We then recommend the student complete our typing app to develop those skills.

Example: Onboarding Users in World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft does an excellent job of starting simple and then becoming extremely complex. When you first start World of Warcraft, your player has literally only one action you can do (attack). It is extremely simple, and once you learn how to use that one action, it then introduces a second action. Once the second button has been learned, it then introduces a third action. By the end of the game the player weaves over a hundred actions together into an engaging  experience. If World of Warcraft started you with all 100 actions, the game would be way too overwhelming, and nobody would play it. On the other hand, if World of Warcraft only had one button available, it would get boring quickly. World of Warcraft was an enormously successful game because they created a perfect difficulty curve – at each point it was challenging enough to engage the player – it was neither too easy nor too difficult. It would continually get more difficult, but it also allowed everyone to participate.

One problem in educational technology is that simple apps tend to be more popular than the complex apps. The complex apps have a richer learning experience, but they also have a steeper learning curve. The complex apps provide better learning experiences, but they also tend to get the least usage. For the creators of complex app, it’s essential to onboard your users by starting with the simplest possible experience. From there, you can then layer on more complex elements.  While this seems obvious, it can be extremely difficult to build a product that starts simple and then gets more complicated. However, if one wants to truly make an impact with a complex product, one need’s to start with the simplest experience possible, and then grow from there.

Increasing Complexity Through Multiple Products: Board Games

Many products are necessarily complicated, and simplification strips out the essence of the product.  For example, in a board game it is nearly impossible to create a game that is simple to play but then has deeper levels of complexity. A board game, however, doesn’t need to have variable levels of difficulty in it. Instead, these variable levels of difficulty can emerge over a series of product. For example, one can start with Monopoly, get into Settlers of Catan, play Battlestar Galactica, and then end up playing Agricola. You can’t start with Agricola, nor should you. Agricola does not have to be accessible to Monopoly players, and if it was it would not be Agricola. Instead, the key thing here is to create a series of products, and introduce more complex elements in each product.

By starting with something that is as simple as possible, we can get everyone on board. We can then introduce more complex layers to engage and challenge them.

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