The Meaningful Learning Cycle: Model Explained

How Learning Should Really Happen

By

Liron Levi and Shachar Oz

February 2017

Abstract
Curiosity is the key for meaningful learning. We agree on that. But how can we inspire curiosity in
students that do not necessarily want to be engaged? How do we keep nurturing it over time?
There is still a distance between the worlds of learning theories and teaching in practice. Building
on our experience from designing and developing video games, we believe we have found some
math that can bridge that gap. Connecting that with psychology and learning theories, we came up
with a new model that visualizes the link between Learning, Passion, Curiosity and Meaningful
Experience.
We believe that by offering meaningful play you might be able to create meaningful experiences for
the user, which would bring moments of enlightenment. This should trigger more curiosity and
develop passionate learners.

Tags: meaningful learning experience, instructional design, learning theory, practice teaching

Cite:
Levi L. & Oz S. (2017). The Learning Cycle: Model Explained. Retrieved [date], from
http://www.flux-experiences.com/learning-cycle.html

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Table of Contents
Background......................................................................................................................................... 3
Model Components ............................................................................................................................ 4
1. Curiosity ................................................................................................................ 5
2. Exploration and Play ................................................................................................ 5
3. Meaningful Experience ............................................................................................. 6
4. Learning, Satisfaction and Empowerment ..................................................................... 6
5. Passion and Failure .................................................................................................. 7
6. Challenge and Boredom ............................................................................................ 8
From Theory to Practice ................................................................................................................. 10
1. Mathematic Model ..................................................................................................10
2. Instructional Model and Best-Practice Recommendations ...............................................10
2.1 Curiosity ............................................................................................................................................. 10
2.2 Exploration......................................................................................................................................... 10
2.3 Experience ......................................................................................................................................... 10
2.4 Learning ............................................................................................................................................. 11
2.5 Passion ............................................................................................................................................... 11
Discussion: Are Teachers Needed? ................................................................................................. 12
Bibliography ..................................................................................................................................... 13

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Background
Providing a meaningful experience to our user is the holy grail of any product. Many theories
confront this challenge and try to explain how to reach a great experience or how our brain responds
to one (see: Flow Theory, Fun Theory, and Multiple Intelligences, just to name a few). We believe
that learning, educating or teaching - are no different than any commercial product, in their need to
strive to provide a meaningful experience to their "clients", the students.
There is still quite a distance between the theory and practice. Building on our experience from
designing and developing video games, we believe we have found some math that can bridge that
gap. When we connect that with what we know on psychology and learning theories, we came up
with a new model that connects Learning, Passion, Curiosity and Meaningful Experience.
How can we inspire curiosity in students that do not necessarily want to be engaged? How do we
keep nurturing it over time? We believe that by offering meaningful play you might be able to
create meaningful experiences for the user, which would bring moments of enlightenment. This
should trigger more curiosity and develop passionate learners.
This is a longer explanation of the learning model we developed, and work according to. We believe
many other creative teachers and instructional designers would relate to this model.
Keep in mind this model is relying on previous research and learning theories, but has greatly
evolved through hands-on practice. We will happily offer more examples, and would love to assist
further academic research in this field.

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Model Components
We will now explain each of the components in the order of their appearance in the learning
process. The description is in high level but highlights the connections made between different
theories and practice.

Meaningful learning cycle by Liron Levi and Shachar Oz

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1. Curiosity
Learning starts with curiosity. A huge research effort today is focused in discovering what triggers
the curiosity of a person, so we could use it to engage them in an educational activity. Curiosity can
rise from a certain media or medium or technology; or from dealing with a field of interest. The
main point here, is that the user needs to care about it. As teachers and educators, if we wish to
teach something to another person, we need to make sure they are intrigued or interested. We need
to make sure they WANT to engage the process.
We should care about what interests our students, what gets to them, what might trigger them to
action. In the user centered design we call this a user research... If we would make an app that no
one would find interesting, this would be a waste of time and money. The same view should apply
to lesson planning and instructional design. We shouldn't take for granted that the students sit in our
classroom. We should make them WANT to be there.
We believe Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences offers a thorough path to understanding
others' minds and triggers (Gardner, 1983). An advanced aspect of the user centered design, called
Persuasive Design, aimed to take advantage of social pressure and other design techniques, in order
to make a user decide on the option we want them to (Nodder, 2013). These techniques can, and
should, be used for good reasons.

Multiple intelligences by Howard Gardner

2. Exploration and Play
Seymour Papert, the inventor of Constructionism, once said that "when we try to teach something,
we deprive the learner from the joy of discovery" (Papert & Harel, 1991). Meaning that learning
should offer independent exploration into the subject matter. Scot Osterweil, the creative director of
the MIT Educational Arcade and the founder of Learning Games Network, claimed that "we need
less teaching and a more gentle guidance" (MIT Technology Review, 2013). Teachers should refrain

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from being a source of information, and rather see themselves as the director and instructor of how
to reach information, while the student explores a certain subject.
Once a learner is curios, we should let them explore. Using play or playful approaches (or activities)
user engages objects, content or software.
There is a wide array of activities and selecting suitable ones depends on the content and the
audience. As a general guideline, good activities for exploration phase are creative and open-ended.
Ones that leave you with more questions and offer different ways of interactions and engagements.
Mitchel Resnick, MIT Professor for Learning, referred to this stage as the PLAY phase, in his Spiral
of Creative Learning (Resnick, 2007).

Spiral of Creative Learning by Mitchel Resnik

3. Meaningful Experience
Meaningful experiences are the most powerful learning points. From the pain of touching a flame,
to the way soil feels in our hands and mouth. We experience with all our senses, and the more
senses being used, the bigger the experience would feel.
Experiences can be positive or negative, successful or disappointing, joyous or sad. To become
meaningful, it should relate to us, appeal to our interests, emotions, needs or motives.
User centered design approach provides much insight to answering that question of how to make an
interface appealing. Alan Cooper, inventor of Personas, once said that “technology should make us
feel more awesome, and the product we use should make us super-human".
Facing a challenge is one way to offer a meaningful experience. Challenges make us think, confront
issues, and come up with solutions. Much like in games or problem-based learning.

4. Learning, Satisfaction and Empowerment
If we succeed the challenge we faced, it means we had to learn something. Either about the subject
matter or the medium. Example to the latter could be this: say we play a game that has a new

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interface or a new mechanic, we would need to spend some time just learning that mechanic. That
would be a simple challenge. If we now need to use all our knowledge to beat a powerful monster -
that's a bigger challenge.
Learning might come as a discovery of something you didn't know before. It can also take the form
of an enlightenment or insight, a significant understanding of a key knowledge piece in the content.
Several discoveries might lead to an enlightenment. Several insights will bring great satisfaction.
Satisfaction is the feeling of achievement and accomplishment. When conquering a challenge, one
feels competent. We are empowered by that process of gaining new knowledge or skill. It feels as a
breakthrough. We feel smarter, bigger and become stronger beings. Neil Gershenfeld, founder of the
FabLab organization, captured that moment saying "there's a magical window just after you learn
something, when you're dying to tell somebody" (Gershenfeld, 2006). He urges teachers to leverage
that moment, and let the student explain to the rest of the class what they have just discovered.
More knowledge gets us more curious about what else is out there and what else could be
investigated. What other questions we can ask on the subject matter. That specific feeling is intrinsic
curiosity. We are now driven by our new gained insights and skills and not by external motivations.
Thus completing a cycle.

Discovery: to move the bicycles forward I need to push these thingies (pedals)
Insight: if I place the pedal on the upmost position, the first push will be strongest
Insight: if I start with a big push (by standing up), it will be easier to continue
Empowerment: I ride a bicycle for 10 meters with no one holding me!

5. Passion and Failure
Malone and Lepper researched what triggers a person to act and what could influence their
behavior. They differentiated intrinsic motivations from extrinsic ones (Malone & Lepper, 1987).
Intrinsic motivation is much more sustainable and strong, since the person acts based on intrinsic
rewards. In our words, this is Passion. This is the power that will get you out of bed on time,
because YOU want to be at a specific lesson, and not because you were told to or forced to. Passion
could be developed for the subject matter ("I love physics"), for the interaction/experience ("I love
sky-diving") or for a specific tech/medium ("I love puzzles").
We are filled with passion when we experience success and satisfaction. Meaning, each time we
finish a cycle, we are gaining more passion to continue investigating. That's why passion has such a
strong energy and so much influence on us. It originates from our own actions and success. The
bigger the challenge we faced, the more passion we develop.

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Passion fills up when completing learning cycles

Passion has an important role to lift us up when we fail a challenge. Say we can't find answers to
our questions and we feel that we tried everything we know. We are disappointed of ourselves. To
give it another try, or to ask for help, requires us to "consume" some of the passion we accumulated
earlier. When our passion resources deplete, we will abandon the learning process for that session.
An external source of curiosity (or extrinsic motivation) should be used to get us back into the
cycle.

Passion is used when we fail

6. Challenge and Boredom
One might claim that if challenges can fail us, why would we do them at all? Well, without a
challenge we simply get bored. Without a challenge, learning cycles would happen very fast, and
therefore the satisfaction amounts would be too low, granting little amounts of passion to continue
the activity. When no significant new knowledge acquired, no intrinsic curiosity can be triggered.
Research shows the importance of challenging the learner in order to reach effectiveness. James
Paul Gee, Arizona University Professor for Literacy studies, said that "Good video games build into
their design great learning principles". He researched in depth the design principles behind video
game design, and how they related to instructional design principles (Gee, 2003). We have also
talked greatly about the similarity between the two areas, coming from our experience in game
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design (Oz, 2012). The basic principle of the Flow Theory is that in order to reach the state of Flow
the user should be challenged just a little above their skill level, as long as they believe in their
ability to overcome that challenge (Csíkszentmihályi, 1996; Csíkszentmihályi, 2004).
Also note that not all challenges can be prevented. Some of the challenges we encounter are with
the medium itself, like in the example we mentioned earlier with the game's interface. This is
something that any player would have to go through and learn. Some challenges are not controlled
by the teacher. Learning is very personalized, and so are the challenges each student might face. As
teachers, we need to make sure they overcome, but doing so, we need to see that they feel it was
their victory.
Lecture as a teaching method doesn't challenge the learner. Nor does book reading, or copying a
specific letter 100 times. Instead, we need to find what might trigger the learner to look for answers
themselves, using our help and guidance.

"After succeeding a significant challenge, good games provide much easier ones in order to secure
the perceived feeling of achievement" Oz, S. (2012)

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From Theory to Practice
This chapter shows how the proposed learning model can be used for practice in teaching. The
insights revealed by the model, provide opportunities to the teacher as well as show risks to avoid.

1. Mathematic Model
Curiosity ignites the learning cycle.
The more human senses being used, the bigger the experience would become.
A few discoveries lead to an enlightenment or insight.
Charging passion when completing a successful cycle.
The harder the assignment/challenge was (on the experience phase), the bigger the satisfaction from
succeeding it, and the more passion you charge.
When we fail, we consume "passion energy" to get back on the horse and try again. If we have no
passion left, we leave depressed or disappointed.
If we do not face difficulty/challenge after X cycles, we get bored and leave for no curiosity.

2. Instructional Model and Best-Practice Recommendations
2.1 Curiosity
Trigger curiosity using external motivations. Make marketing for the subject matter. Find creative
ways to talk about the field or product, and use the methods you find successful with your students.
Meaning, when you do something that works, keep pushing on that direction and use that success to
leverage other aspects. Word of mouth marketing is the most effective and efficient method, so use
students that are already interested, as a marketing vessel.
Learn the intelligences of your students. If you can't get them interested in the subject matter itself,
look for a technology or a tool, an interaction or an exercise that could make them interested. Find a
way to connect that activity to the subject matter. Gardner once said that "anything worth teaching
can be presented in many ways" (Gardner, 1983). So as long as it's valuable, solutions exist.

2.2 Exploration
Offer the learner to play a game or allow independent exploration. Begin with open questions that
extend the curiosity you planted. You should have the first few cycles go easy, since we need to
charge students with passion. This will help them overcome failures, from challenges we present
later.

2.3 Experience
Predefine the challenges you are going to present to the learner. Organize these challenges
according to the instructional design and information design of the content. You should have a
knowledge dependency map for the subject matter.

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Knowledge dependency map represents key learning points in subject matter 'H'

Design a challenge for each important bottle neck, or key aspect in the dependency map. The rest of
the learning could be progressed with exploration.
Design for different senses. Design for multiple senses at once (Gardner, 1983). Use various
technologies, tools and activities that you not normally use. Surprise your students.
Think outside the box, outside the classroom, outside the school.

2.4 Learning
Discoveries lead to insights lead to breakthroughs and empowerment. Build your key learning
stages on these ideas: plan the discoveries the students will need to reason about the content,
understand their order. Direct the students to the insights in the order you planed.
Make sure students credit themselves these achievements and breakthroughs, instead of you as their
teacher. They must understand that they did the hard work and that you only helped. That would
empower them to continue challenging themselves.

2.5 Passion
There are two types of passions that are important: the student’s and the teacher’s. We talked
enough about how to achieve the student’s passion. But the teacher has no passion, students feel
that and they stay away.
We believe in what we call hobby-based learning. Use your hobbies in your teaching. Whether it’s
cooking, surfing, sports, crafting, music, electronics, mechanics – you should find a way to bring it
into class and teach subject with it. We found out that it doesn’t matter what a person likes, when
they see a passionate teacher talking, they listen. When you see a passionate person speaking, you
feel connected and you feel that there must be something good there. Passionate people makes us
curios.

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Discussion: Are Teachers Needed?
Talking about using technology and games in education, we are often asked about the role of the
teacher in the era of computing and online learning. With such advancements in technology, will the
teacher be excluded from the learning process? Especially when we can find an online free
courseware created by the best professors worldwide.
Well, we do not believe this is the case and this article tries to explain that point. The interpersonal
bondage between the teacher and their students is crucial to understand their personality, emotional
needs, preferences, triggers, intelligences, and passions. No technology exists today can do all that,
and we are not sure if it could ever reach human-like emotional understanding.
Teachers are required to change their ways, and become bridges between learner and the
knowledge. They need to offer methods of finding answers, rather than providing it themselves.
They should be experts in designing several courses of actions to learn a specific topic, using the
great materials out there. The educational technology market today is so big that you do not even
know where to start. It is much like entering a TARGET store trying to find pants. We need to help
our students be able to discover answers by themselves, to questions they have raised. We need to
help them to overcome fears, collaborate in teams, work independently, present ideas and concepts,
and be caring and aware of each other's needs. The Federation of American Scientists conducted a
very extensive investigation on the skills for the 21st century, both for the student and the teacher
(Summit on Educational Games, 2006).

There are a lot of examples to teachers already working by this manner with their class. Among our
favorites are: Walter Levin, MIT Professor of Physics, with his famous "The Last Lecture" (For the
Allure of Physics, 2011); John Hunter, veteran teacher, with his World Peace game (Hunter, 2011;
Hunter, 2013); Quest 2 Learn school and the Blue School at New York.
Great minds have helped us pave our way up to this point: Ken Robinson (Robinson, 2006), Sugata
Mitra (Mitra, 2013), Henry Jenkins (Squire & Jenkins, 2004), Kurt Squire (New Learning Institute,
2011), Jane McGonigal (McGonigal, 2010) – just to name a few additional leaders to the ones
already mentioned above. Our task now is to train teachers to change their mindset, to the one
described. Because at some point, the students will just stop coming into class...

The Summit of Educational Games by the Federation of American Scientists

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