Daily Archives: 15 October 2018

The Super Mario Effect

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”

Learning a new skill requires a willingness to fail over and over again. You may never be perfect, but if you keep at it, over time, you fail less often. Before you know it, you become more consistent as you apply lessons from each attempt. Among the obstacles in your way are motivation and time. Given the right amount of motivation and thousands of hours you’ll progress from novice to proficiency and eventually to mastery.

We often don’t need to master these new skills and we eventually practice less and less. To practice beyond our early engagement, we need something to sustain the initial motivation. For some, curiosity, career opportunities, and a learner’s mindset are enough to draw you to a subject but without passion and discipline, these efforts quickly wane. Depending on how necessary the new skill is, this can be enough or leave you just short of your goal. The challenge for instructors lies in stoking rather than smothering motivation.

Facilitators and teachers can learn a lot about motivating the learning by considering the obstacles before them: passion, time, incentive, and embarrassment.   To overcome these obstacles, we must reframe learning and destigmatize failure. There is no better example of this than video games, namely Super Mario.

focus photo of super mario luigi and yoshi figurines

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In Super Mario you must dodge enemies, leap pits, and climb obstacles to save the princess. As you play, you’ll fail more times than you can count but many stick through these failures and reach the castle. Their motivation is sustained because, to them, succeeding is worth it. In this mindset, failure isn’t embarrassing or shameful, it’s a chance to learn and adjust. Maybe you jump sooner next time, or you run up to the gap instead. Stringing together these small successes allows you to learn. The motivation to succeed doesn’t end when you fall into the pit. We are no longer driven by the fear of failure and learn far more from the challenge.

How do we apply this?

In designing material to motivate through failure, we can:

  • Incentivize trying again and again
  • Remove negative consequences for incorrect attempts and/or failure
  • Provide small rewards that sustain the effort through to the end
  • Frame failure as an opportunity, not the end
  • Create learning environments that allow the learner to build on what they’ve learned to engage the next level
  • Consider learning games that reinforce your teaching.

As learners:

  • Don’t be afraid to fail!
  • Have fun!

For more information on the Super Mario effect, check out this TED talk by Mark Rober!