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ATD Blog

Applying Wordle Design Principles to E-Learning

Tuesday, August 9, 2022
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Have you played the online game Wordle? It’s the one with the green, yellow, and gray boxes that went viral during the pandemic.

Josh Wardle, a former Reddit engineer, created the game in 2021 that became a family activity over WhatsApp. The New York Times eventually purchased it in January 2022, adding it to their collection of word games, including Spelling Bee and the Crossword.

As learning and development professionals, we can apply some of the design principles used in this game to our learning interventions.

Simple User Interface

The user interface is minimalistic with three components:

  • The top navigation panel, which includes the main title and four icons for instructions, settings, the player’s record, and links to other games from the New York Times
  • The main field containing a six-by-five table where the letters appear
  • The bottom keyboard to type out answers

For a game that capitalizes on a player’s lexical wealth and logical thinking, Wordle uses an intuitive design to lessen cognitive load. In fact, first-time players receive just 85 words of instruction letting them know everything they’ll need to start playing the game.

We can also achieve a simple yet effective e-learning design by following these tips:

  • Stick to one pair of font combinations in two to three colors.
  • Provide simple, one-click or drag interactivity.
  • Use visual or auditory cues and clear instructions.
  • Trust your users' knowledge and intuition, and avoid pedantic instructions (for example, “click next to continue”).

Bite-Sized Learning

Wordle offers one puzzle per day.

A small-sized challenge does not generate fatigue, overindulgence, or saturation. On the contrary, it builds anticipation and excitement, which is why some players can sustain a 30- to 80-day streak.

Moreover, we learn best through small learning chunks. These approaches can help us execute our bite-sized learning:

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  • Microlearning contains content that takes two to 15 minutes. This can be delivered through videos, standalone modules, or even games. It is shorter than a full course because a microlearning nugget is tied to one or two learning objectives. It’s action based and easily consumed.
  • Drip feeding, like microlearning, uses chunking to break down big and complex topics into manageable sizes. In drip feeding, the delivery of microlearning content is scheduled so learners get time to process and practice, keeping them excited for the next lesson.

Desirable Difficulty

Although there are 13,000 five-letter words in the English language, Wordle uses 2,500 commonly known words. This increases the chances of success while keeping the game challenging enough to trigger encoding and retrieval learning processes. Moreover, all players are equally engaged with the same puzzle regardless of their skill level.

We can design learning to activate flow by designing scenarios or simulations that are challenging enough and customized to the learners’ skill levels.

Retrieval Practice

While Wordle seems like a crossword at first, the mental process of solving it is like cracking codes.

Players use their knowledge of spelling and sound patterns to solve the puzzle. As the game is based on five-letter words, the words almost always involve consonant clusters, such as “ETAOIN SHRDLU.” The puzzle promotes converting knowledge from long-term memory into working memory.

While learning does occur during the initial encoding stage—when users get information in through the content presentation—research suggests that a significant amount of learning also occurs when users pull information out through retrieval practice. Strategies for retrieval that we can practice include quizzes, assessments, and real-life situation testing, where users can recall information from memory. Effective feedback helps the learning stick.

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Feedback

The goal of Wordle’s players is to solve a five-letter mystery word in six attempts. The puzzle uses color as feedback on letter positioning, changing the color of the tiles:

  • Green indicates a letter is in the correct position.
  • Yellow signals the letter is in the word but not in its proper place.
  • Gray means the letter is not used in the puzzle.

Another feature involves the keyboard keys reflecting the letter states. This prevents the user from moving back and forth between the grid and the keyboard, reducing cognitive load.

Wordle’s congratulatory messages are positive and humorous, describing players as genius, magnificent, impressive, splendid, and great; players receive a relieved “phew” on their sixth attempt.

As learning professionals, we can design feedback that helps our learners reach the learning goal with simple and effective tactics.

Shared Experience

Wordle allows users to share their wins without sharing the answers. While there are no prizes or rewards for solving the puzzle, one can post the colored blocks online to show they solved it. This is an excellent example of zero-knowledge proof.

With all players (skilled and unskilled) working on the same puzzle simultaneously, Wordle promotes a shared experience, bringing everyone together.

When we design learning interventions for all competency levels to maximize the size of our potential audience, we help foster a learning environment that encourages social learning.

Less Is More

Wordle capitalizes on simple and effective learning and visual design principles to create a product everyone can engage with and enjoy. And so can learning designers!

About the Author

Garima Gupta is the founder and CEO of Artha Learning, a full-service award-winning learning design firm. She brings more than 15 years of experience in L&D, training, digital marketing, content creation, education, and software engineering. Garima is passionate about the effective use of technology in educational spaces and speaks regularly at national and international conferences. She holds an MEd in adult education and a CTPD designation.

2 Comments
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What I do to get the Wordle is I actually start with 4 words. Lucky, power, bands, fight. Its because it knoks off 20 letters and giving you a good chance at seeing all the letters that are in the word. wordle
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Very useful on how we could leverage Wordle into our learning design.
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