Millipede was commissioned in July 2014 to begin conceptualising, designing and developing a series of seven apps, each focused on language learning theme and set in an imaginary location filled with characters. Each of the seven Polyglots apps was developed from scratch with unique music, play-based language learning activities and cultural artefacts. Each app was then simultaneously released in five languages (Japanese, Mandarin, Indonesian, Arabic and French) at key points during the Trial phase. With each app built in both iOS and Android, that meant a total of 70 apps designed and built in an 18 month period.
World class learning design
We designed each app as a unique play-based experience, with groups of activities designed to engage children in creative play while exposing them to the target language. Music, animation, friendly characters and age-appropriate voiceovers are used throughout each app. Activities also encourage group play, imaginative play and physically active play experiences. Children use language as they paint, make cakes, get up and dance, sing along with the onscreen characters, and dozens of other activities. Millipede also developed unique technical solutions such as Group Presence, a means of sharing content across multiple devices, which meant children had an extended play experience when they played the same activities together.
A key goal was to encourage the children not only to listen to language and try to understand it, but to structure activities that actively encouraged children to speak to the characters in the apps, using the words they heard. This was very successfully achieved using a combination of engaging characters, careful prompting, and fun payoffs when the child’s voice was detected by the app.
To develop a high volume of bespoke apps in such a short period required a solid technical base and a rigorous development process. Millipede’s technical solution used two closely related parts, an asset pipeline and a highly productive development environment based on our own custom graphics engine. Combined with a carefully structured approach to sound libraries, technical team members are able to focus on the unique mechanics and interactions, and art team members are able to design and animate separately, knowing the apps they are building will remain solid and stable when all the separate parts are combined.
The Trial was an overwhelmingly positive experience for the preschool children and educators participating, as well as the broader family and communities involved. The original Trial was conducted in 2015 with 1700 children across 41 schools around Australia to great success. Teachers reported high engagement with the children and family members as a result.
An evaluation conducted by Deloitte Access Economics noted that Millipede’s apps incorporated all the elements of best practice app design identified for the Trial, and particularly noted the flexibility the tablets afforded children to work at their own pace, in a non-competitive format. This was seen as being particularly beneficial for certain cohorts, such as quiet children or children with developmental delays.
The success of the original Trial has prompted a further trial in 2016 with a much larger number of childcare centres, and it will be made available to all preschool services nationally in 2017.
The ELLA apps are well designed, non competitive and with a positive purpose, this fits in well with our philosophy. Not all apps are designed this way so we would have to be very careful which ones we put in the classroom.
I am quite amazed at how much children have learnt using the iPads. The apps have reinforced some basic Kindy concepts which has been really good, especially for the lower achievers.
It has been encouraging to see quiet/shy students interact with technology in a way they don’t with educators. That face to face interaction which is intimidating for some is removed when they are using an iPad.
Educator statements following Trial completion, as reported in
Evaluation of the Early Evaluation of the Early Learning Languages Australia Trial – Final Report
Department of Education and Training, 29 February 2016
Deloitte Access Economics