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The Nordics’ passion for gamification goes global

Nordic startups are pioneering the gamification of educational apps, with an international market looking on

Digital startups across Scandinavia are fuelling a gamification revolution to educate, stimulate and even safeguard children.

These startups are allowing the next generation of inquisitive children to dictate their own development, with technology providing the platform. Nordic countries are the perfect environments for the development of this type of technology, according to Daniel Senn, CEO of Norwegian company Poio. The tech company’s app encourages reading development by way of games that play out as a result of choices made by the child.

“Having an intuitive mindset ingrained in us [Scandinavians] early on makes us more entrepreneurial later in life, and gamification has a huge part to play in generating that intuitiveness,” said Senn.

“It may seem like an alternative to traditional schooling, but in fact it’s not a million miles away,” he said. “In schools, you get rewards, grades and reports in response to your actions at predetermined times. In a way, that is gamification – it’s just not very good gamification.

“With technology, you can adapt that same ideology in a way that is specialised to younger children’s psychologies, based around short feedback loops, instant gratification and tailored responses.”

There is demand in the Nordics when it comes to educational applications, primarily due to the young age from which children begin using digital technology – some as young as two when it comes to iPads.

From Senn’s perspective, he said literacy has been left behind in this trend, however, and Poio is striving to bridge that gap. He also notices that numeracy and maths games have so far been much more akin to creative app development, as epitomised by pocket money and chores app Gimi.

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Gimi CEO and founder Philip Haglund said the app has had more than a million global downloads, and he believes that gamification fills gaps. “We found that a regular school-based education often doesn’t teach children what they need to know when it comes to money management, and they often leave school lacking the basic knowledge of financial decision making,” he said. “Our solution is a better, more rewarding and efficient way to educate children in these matters.

“Through the app we gamify chores, turning work into play. Children learn how time, effort, and money relate to each other by putting them in the driver’s seat.”

Breaking ground in the ed-tech space is one thing, but education doesn’t have to solely revolve around academia. Gamification for children through the use of technology is also providing social development, as well as a freedom to explore the unknown in a more secure way.

XPLORA’s wearable technology has gone from strength to strength in recent years as a way for both children and adults to communicate securely without the risks that social media or smartphones present. To be given freedom is a Nordic trait that can inevitably encounter safety concerns, but technologies such as these mitigate the issue.

With what is essentially a game on their wrists, children in particular are being taught how to enjoy themselves and be inquisitive in a safe way, as well as how to socialise and communicate with others as part of a contained, trusted community.

“One of the heart-warming things we’ve seen is the link between children and grandparents,” said XPLORA co-founder Sten Kirkbak. “Two generations relatively equal in their unfamiliarity with new technologies are coming together through gamification.

“For the children especially, they learn not only how to explore in safe ways, but how to keep in touch with loved ones, how to socialise via digitisation, and how to stay connected to people that are important to them.”

Spreading Nordic ideals around the world

It’s the gamification of life, not just academic life, that is encouraging an increasing number of startups to enter the space.

“Well-designed ed-tech tools can aid in the learning process both in and out of academia, and we have seen that gamification specifically can boost user engagement and a sense of accomplishment as part of learning,” said Haglund. “We think of gamification as nudging. To be able to point people in the right direction, help them learn new skills and give them incentives to do good things for themselves.”

And while this is potentially Nordic-influenced – tapping into the love of gaming and activity to encourage education – it is proving to be just as, if not more, commercially successful further afield, too.

“Put it this way, if Nordic children are already instinctively active and creative, they’ll love gamification through tech – but they’re not the ones purchasing the products,” said Kirkbak. In the UK, for example, or even in Silicon Valley where there is lots of innovation, kids aren’t as active, but that creates a market in itself as parents look to encourage them in a safe and contained way.

“For that reason, XPLORA has had so much interest outside of the Nordics from parents looking to address and improve areas of activeness, education and health in a way that isn’t perhaps natural to their culture.”

The aforementioned global reputation for Scandinavian ideals is translating into commercial viability. As such, when it comes to digital startups in the sector of child development, the Nordics are winning their own game.

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