On May 26, 2021 a Google Doodle was unveiled that is absolutely brilliant.
The Doodle commemorates the historic Savoy Ballroom in New York City, and pays tribute to the Swing and Lindy Hop dancing the ballroom was famous for. You can read about the Doodle itself, its historical meaning, and how it was created, on Google's blog.
What I want to focus on here, is the Doodle itself, because it provides a brilliant example of how to teach motor skills online.
WHAT ARE MOTOR SKILLS?
Motor skills are one of the five "domains of learning" described by educational researcher and theorist Robert M. Gagné.
Motor skills are physical movement routines such as the physical steps involved in touch typing, driving a car, hand motions used in surgery or manufacturing, or sports.
The other four domains of learning include:
What makes the Savoy Ballroom Google Doodle so exciting (to me, and I hope also to you, by the time you get done reading this article) is that it is an absolutely brilliant demonstration of how people can teach, and learn, motor skills entirely online.
If you watch and listen to the Google design team discussing how they created the Doodle, you can learn a lot about the creative inspiration they put into it, based on physical dance movements.
When you follow the movements of the Doodle, even though using only your fingers, you can actually FEEL those dance movements on a sensory whole-body level.
What makes the Doodle very special, from my perspective as a learning designer, is that it provides us with the opportunity to experience what it FEELS like, at the visceral, sensory level, to learn a motor skill in a completely online setting -- a setting that is self-paced, evergreen, and does not require the presence of an instructor in any way.
(Also, it is highly addictive -- in a good way--I'll talk more about that in a minute.. and a lot of fun).
To experience what it feels like to learn a motor skill in an entirely online environment, try out the Doodle for yourself.
The goal is to type the indicated letter key (F, D, J, or K) in time with the music.
If you type the key correctly, you get feedback in the form of a yellow circle that appears around the letter on the screen.
If you make a mistake the circle turns red and makes an unpleasant clunking sound instead.
While I got 100% on the easiest level (not the first time I tried it... that took me many practice tries), even with practice you will see that my ability to perform the motor skills correctly decreases as the tempo gets faster and the number of letters to be pressed at the same time, increases.
The increasing difficulty of the motor skill to be learned is exactly what provides us with a wonderful opportunity to learn and get smarter about how people (and by "people" I mean you and me, specifically, right here and right now) can learn motor skills online.
Which is why I'd love for you to go to the Doodle and experience it directly for yourself.
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As the speed increases and you start having to press multiple letter keys at the same time, one's first experience is that of complete overwhelm.
For me, there was no way I could even SEE which key to hit next, let alone get there fast enough to avoid making a mistake.
How can anyone do this?
Then I discovered a thread on Reddit where a group of dance experts were talking about how they had nailed all the levels (including the top secret BONUS level.. who knew there even WAS one?).
These experts had mastered all the levels.
First of all, that told me that IT COULD BE DONE. Not that I could necessarily do it.. but SOMEONE could.
The redditors served as inspiring role models for me. Their chat in the thread made me aware that what I was trying to do was not impossible, since others had done it. (Inspiring role models are a feature of mindset change learning. Mindset or attitude change is a different type or domain of learning than motor skills. But it's clear that having the right mindset is important in order to keep trying long enough to master a motor skill.)
SO.. inspired by the redditors... and intensely CURIOUS about this new secret bonus level I'd now been made aware of... I returned to practicing the game. I practiced pretty obsessively for several days... it is indeed addictive (but in a good way).
What is it that drives someone to practice a motor skill (or indeed, to try to learn anything) over and over until they master it?
You can see two of the motivational factors described by Gagné elsewhere in his work, here:
Why could some do easily, what was so hard for me?
They had something I lacked: relevant PRIOR KNOWLEDGE
(one of the "Nine Events of Instruction" described by Gagne).
Their relevant prior knowledge consisted of:
Motor skills are a SPECIFIC type of learning, and there is something very special and unique about learning them:
we have to develop muscle memory and internalize a smooth movement routine
by putting together individual movements one step at a time.
And then we have to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
until the smooth movement routine becomes an automatic habit
that we can perform without having to stop and think about it.
I did finally manage to unlock the mysterious bonus round of the Google Doodle, and I'm very proud to show you my (as yet far from perfect) performance of it here.
This took many attempts to learn and practice, but I was highly motivated... not just so that I could write about it in this blog post and share with you (though that, too) but because getting immediate feedback (which the Doodle provides in the form of color and sound cues and also your score), is an incentive to keep going and improve.
Motor skills learning is hardwired into our most basic survival mechanisms.
The ability to flee a predator, climb a tree to pick a piece of fruit, or securely navigate rugged terrain,
are motor skills that have often meant the difference between life and death to humans throughout history.
I was struck by how driven I felt to achieve self-efficacy in performing the motor skills needed to master the Doodle.
It was important to my sense of self-esteem to be able to DO IT MYSELF.
The redditors served as role models showing me it COULD be done...and that in turn improved my mindset enough to keep trying.
The motivational factors of CURIOSITY, SELF-EFFICACY, and (eventually) ACHIEVEMENT,
kept me going long enough to practice and master the skill.
I developed a COGNITIVE STRATEGY (a way of "learning how to learn")
that helped me master some of the trickier two-handed letter combinations.
Once I realized that what I was looking at on the screen was not just a series of hopelessly fast-moving dots that I had to somehow press on time, but rather a predictable, repetitive, series of movements combining specific letters from both hands at the same time (the F and K keys, the D and J keys, etc), then I was able to isolate and practice those moves.
I still didn't always get it right, especially at first.
But once I was able to analyze and evaluate (from Bloom's taxonomy) the places where I kept messing up,
I could create a learning strategy that helped me master the moves.
The Google Doodle provides us with a direct, tactile, sensory experience of learning motor skills online.
It provides us with the opportunity to reflect more deeply on how humans learn movement routines,
and on how we can create effective learning of all kinds in our own online courses.
If you get a chance to try out the Google Doodle, drop me a note and let me know your own experiences of, and reflections on, learning and teaching motor skills in an online environment.
Write to me at Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com or join us on Saturdays on Zoom for the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting...where we talk about how to survive and thrive with online learning and online courses in these challenging times.
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