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Playground Sessions

A new software program trains aspiring pianists through interactive learning

by Meghan Killeen in Tech on 23 November 2011

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Gaming meets Chopin with Playground Sessions, a downloadable software that teaches piano through its breakthrough "Play to Learn" approach. Riffing on the strumming-to-scoring simulation of Guitar Hero, Playground Sessions enables users to practice "in an interactive environment with real-time feedback," backed by an interconnected keyboard and hit music library.

Created by brand invention firm, ZAG, Playground Sessions is a "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" method of self-driven learning motivated by the gaming allure of rewards and level ups. Drawn to their research and design expertise, Managing Director Chris Vance turned to Jan Plass and Bruce Homer, founding partners of NYU's Consortium for Research and Evaluation of Advanced Technologies in Education (CREATE) "to fine tune specific learning-related design elements," says Vance. Aiming to "identify design patterns for effective educational games," CREATE's joint initiative with Microsoft Research, Games for Learning Institute (G4LI), aligned with Playground Sessions' innovative design requirements.

Playground Sessions uses a split interface that simultaneously highlights keyboard hand placement, musical notation and video instruction led by the self-taught pianist and YouTube sensation David Sides. "The pedagogy behind Playground Sessions taps into three powerful mechanism for learning—the motivational power of games, the ability of games to engage the learner in meaningful activities that are effective for learning, and the ability to provide detailed performance feedback to players," explains Dr. Plass.

Organized by level—beginner to advanced—and subject—rhythm, ear training and more—Playground Sessions' "Bootcamp" lessons appeal to learners of varying styles and preferences. Playground Sessions also allows users to share their scores via Twitter and Facebook or high-kick their skills into action with a collective competition amongst friends. Playground Sessions bolsters confidence through effective and encouraging steps, evidenced by the above video, "Days to Play," a heartwarming story illustrating the software's success.

"Games have a number of benefits that make them powerful learning environments with the potential to impact learning. They involve learners in the kind of activities that allow them to develop skills essential for success," states Dr. Plass. Indeed, it's with this gaming mentality that Playground Sessions seems to mix a winning formula for a new generation of hyper-stimulated kids and adults burnt out on traditional piano lessons.

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