5 questions for Caroline Moore on mobile language learning [INTERVIEW]

Increasingly, Publishers and content creators are getting their material onto mobile devices. It makes perfect sense to be doing so, putting learning tools directly into the hands of learners, but it’s not as easy as just creating a great product. I met up with Caroline Moore, Director and Co-Founder of LearnAhead to find out more about mobile language learning and how their company is on a mission to get better language acquisition apps into the market.

1. Can you give us a bit of background to LearnAhead – who are you, what do you so and what do you stand for?

LearnAhead is a company focused on helping people to learn languages through engaging and pedagogically tested educational digital products. It’s relatively new (starting in October 2011) and we are a globally dispersed team with expertise in language teaching, elearning and design based in London, Somerset, Tuscany and Cape Town. We’ve been working tirelessly over the last year to create our first app Word Carrot. And are planning on using mobile technology to promote language learning in a fun, personalised and interactive way.


2. Why a mobile language learning game and what is Word Carrot?

The idea behind such a language acquisition game is to reinforce vocabulary in a fun and entertaining way. There are lots of things you need to do when learning a language, but first you need to learn words, lots of them.  There are two ways you can learn words – firstly through direct exposure through lots of reading, listening, and spending time with people who speak the language.  Secondly, you should reinforce such learning through the systematic learning of words, often through rote learning of word lists, but most people find this boring and tend to give up. Our aim with Word Carrot from the beginning was to be different – engaging and educationally sound yes, but with a fun twist that promotes language learning by stealth.

Word Carrot is a native iPhone app which has a classic arcade game feel to it. Learners steer a slightly evil looking bunny through outer space (and multiple levels) by hearing and seeing words and then zapping the letters to spell it out. If you are successful you win carrots and bonus points, if not, you lose rabbit lives. ?It is mainly for English Language learners aged 7-11, although we have found that it is being used by any English learner and even those native speakers who struggle with literacy, for instance older dyslexics who find a lot of basic literacy resources too kiddy.

The app can be downloaded for free by teachers, learners and gamers and then there are additional levels with more words to unlock which can be purchased.
In order to meet the teachers needs a whole teachers resource section of the Word Carrot website has been created where resources, worksheets and ideas for using the game can be downloaded.


3. What has been one of the biggest challenges with getting the app developed?

One of the biggest challenges has been getting discovered. Not just in the app store, which brings its own problems to get through but also from the point of view of actually reaching the teachers and our target audience – language learners. Finding the Word Carrot app when you are looking for it is easy, stumbling across it when you are looking for something like Word Carrot is much harder. And so the long-term success of Word Carrot is going to be more about getting a wider market spread. So more languages, bolt on topical themes – there is a Halloween and Christmas set of words – plus lots more in the future and also more resources for teachers.

We’ve had over 50,000 downloads in the past 3 months in over 30 countries, so our next challenge is to grow our audiences, and get them to start buying more levels. It’s time for the rabbit to earn his carrots and start paying his way!


4. What do you think mobile learning means for teachers, educators and learners?

For teachers it’s hard, there is a lot of expectation to be able to use this technology, which can be enormously distracting, unless they use the right strategies to help their students use it productively.  And that has been one of the hardest aspects we’ve found – getting teachers to find Word Carrot and then showing them how it can be applied into an educational and classroom context. For learners mobile learning is brilliant. You have access to thousands of apps, games, and websites on your phone, often for free or very low cost, and you don’t have to lug around all these heavy books. Young learners in particular are growing up with mobile devices and they expect to have these opportunities at their fingertips. So this starts to become a real problem in the educational environment where schools struggle to afford new technology – or take a gamble on the wrong technology. It’s also difficult for parents trying to keep up with the pace of technological change.

In the medium to long term, we think mobile learning will transform how learners and their teachers access and use content, and we are already seeing initiatives to replace textbooks with apps and other mobile resources such as the traditional “work book” and answer key products. Work books are valuable learning tools and a major source of revenue for many educational publishers. We see Word Carrot as a kind of post “work book” app.


5. And what about even further into the future?

Beyond this we all need to reimagine courseware design and create rich learning environments that learners can explore. We think there’s a role here too for game based learning to take the drudgery out of repetitive learning, using routines like the ones we have in Word Carrot. And we are speaking to several publishers about working with them to develop apps that can help them extend existing course book products and brands into mobile.

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  1. Interesting interview, thanks. I think given the growth in smartphone usage, those who can successfully integrate mobile learning platforms into curriculum based learning (which seems as if it’s going to hang in there for a while yet) are onto a real winner.

  2. It was fun meeting Sophie at the British Library last week, and talking about mobile learning when the opportunities are really taking off. TechCrunch reported a Gartner survey yesterday that suggests over 800m smartphones and tablets have been sold, with 1.2 billion predicted sales for 2013 (by the way, I am not related to Chris Moore, author of the previous comment on this article!).

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