MELoDiA: designing an educational music application
We are happy to have been part of the MELoDiA design team that delivered a marketable product only months after the end of the project. Just as a record only holds polished songs, a game in the App Store does not reveal the iterations it underwent. Since we are proud of the end result and the research trajectory that led up to it, we want to put the user insights that formed the end product in the spotlight. Drum rolls, please!
At the start of the project the research groups SMIT & CUO |Social Spaces, together with the partners, had worked out a concept for an application aimed at children between 8 and 12 years old. We wanted to work towards a mobile game application that provides a fun learning experience to novice music learners while learning to sing. Also, we made use of popular content that fits in with children’s personal music experiences. Furthermore, we aimed to include real-time feedback. Lastly, we wanted to make a game that keeps children motivated while learning, so they would not quit on music.
While the concept was clear to all project partners, we had questions about our targeted end users and music education. Firstly, we did not know what children (aged 8 to 12) with little to no experience with music education expect from music games. Secondly, we had to discover which practices in music education could be translated into a digital learning environment. In order to find answers to these questions we conducted user research with children and music teachers. Ultimately, the insights we gathered informed the design of this new music game.
… to educational music application
We learned that children are eager to learn. Consequently, they accept negative and positive feedback, as long as the feedback allows them to improve their performance. As such, the application gives children detailed feedback on their performance. Taking up the children’s challenge to be bold, the designers experimented with a virtual audience that appealed to the children during user tests. Also, children indicated that by obtaining scores, they could enter in competitions with their friends or siblings. In order to support the children’s motivation, we included a point system and high scores in the application. The children involved in our research also shared some concerns, for instance about the aggravating hours they have to spend practicing. Many children experience this as the least fun part about learning music. While children put in much effort, this effort usually only pays off in the long run. Therefore, we decided to score effort as well. Importantly, we learned that children wanted to be in control. So, we suggested to implement a learning path that children can decide to follow – or not. Another important insight concerned the need for children to practice in private, but share their ability with their peers. Thus, the children can record and replay the recordings they like with the application.
After talking with the children, we turned to the teachers for insights on music teaching. Teachers mentioned that they break up a song in different pieces so it is easier to learn. As such, the interface of the game clearly separates these elements. The teachers also told us they give feedback as soon as possible so children do not learn ‘wrong skills’. However, when children make many mistakes teachers work on the most important errors so children are not discouraged. To support this insight, the design team decided to ‘flag’ the most important errors children can focus on.
This was the ‘behind the scenes’ story of the design of an educational music application for novice music learners. We now welcome all children to the stage to learn to sing with K3.
Project realized with the support of iMinds Media & together with Cartamundi Digital, MU Technologies (with financial support of IWT), Halewijnstichting and LUCA School of Arts (Lemmensinstituut)