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Edtech that "Sparks Joy"

Marie Kondo is upon us, like a modern-day Mary Poppins she is sweeping our lives clean of clutter with Zen-like élan. While I have not read Marie’s book, and have so far avoided the guilty pleasure of her Netflix series, I do know that she uses a simple, definitive technique at the “decluttering” stage - of every item in your space, ask yourself,

Does it spark joy?

Ever keen to catch a trend on the upswing, I’ve curated a list of edtech tools, apps and programs that are not only effective, but teach through joy.

Edtech that sparks joy

Developers have naturally found a niche for “joyful” tech in the elementary phases, where the idea of allowing younger kids to have fun while learning is all but a credo.

But what of the more complex arena of senior appropriate edtech — can it too be joyful? I believe the answer is yes.


Launching right in is our very own NEO LMS. We try not to make our blog “all about us”; our readers visit K-20 Blog for objective insight into the challenges, trends and future of edtech, not blatant self-promotion. Truthfully however, we would be lacking balance if we did not acknowledge that right here on our doorstep lies edtech infused with joy.

Teachers using the NEO LMS platform can use a host of nifty tools to really make learning accessible, self-paced and fun. Micro-learning options and full mobile integration mean students can learn on-the-go, as well as opt for quick-learning modules to study when they have a quiet moment.

Learning paths and mini-accreditations, badges and leader boards add a joyful game element to the courses, where teachers can create entire games within the course directed at certain learning outcomes and mastery levels.

With automated actions that can be inserted after a task, or failing to complete a task, mean teachers have more time to spend on the systems chat rooms and forums, where students can discuss challenges and issues in closed groups, and even invite friend into virtual study groups.

Take the tour to see how NEO could work for your school or university and start a free trial to see all of the above features — and more — in action.


We are well aware of the very many ways that digital storytelling assists students to consider content critically, improve language skills and enhance collaboration and creativity - but can it also be used to bring deep learning (and perhaps a bit more joy) to studying STEM subjects?

It has been shown in fact that, while unconventional, telling stories with the express intention to teach science is effective. Students appear to find it easier to recall long strings of reasoning when they are couched within a story.

“This is a contrast that we are taught to associate with the “objectivity” of science vs. the “subjectivity” of experience. It artificially and misleadingly makes students and the public imagine that science stands somehow outside of the world of human experience, rather than being a specialized part of it.” — (p. 134). S. Parsons et al. International Journal of Research & Method in Education 249.

Additionally, storytelling in STEM subjects bridges the conceptual divide between the “abstract” concepts of science, and the messy machinations of everyday life. edtech is perfectly placed to bring the personal specifics of our lives: where we live, where we are from, what we see, who we are friends with etc. into the scientific. Quite literally, beneath the stories of our seemingly mundane lives, pulses the story of science.

Some great examples of how storytelling is bringing joy back to learning science include:

  • 23 and Me Education Programs - Here your very own genes become the basis for learning about the more abstract concept of genetics.
  • S’COOL - NASA’s Cloud observation program, enables students to study and understanding global systems of weather, by contributing data from their own backyard.
  • Finding Your Roots - A program by Penn State University based on the popular PBS genealogy series, sources content across a wide academic spectrum (from anthropology and genetics to history and art) where educators are provided with a Next Generation Science Standards curriculum that enables students to explore the science behind the stories of their own families.


Simply put, Finland is one of the most joyful places to be both a teacher and a student.

  • Compulsory schooling starts at 7 years of age
  • Teacher hours = 600 a year
  • Max lesson time 45 minutes
  • 25 lessons max a week
  • Nine lessons of the 25 weekly lessons are arts, music, craft work and sports
  • Less than an hour p/day of homework
  • There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school.
  • No one is assigned their own classroom without a master’s degree and years of training
  • All government education agencies are staffed by educators (shocker)
  • Spend 30% less per student than the US

We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test.

Said Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture.

Add to that their sensational results: 93% high school graduation rate - with 66% moving onto higher education (the highest rate in Europe and 17,5% above the US).

Is it any surprise then that Finland is also Europe’s most well-funded and vibrant edtech hub? With over 80 edtech startups and around 150 established edtech-related companies, not to mention an estimated 10-12 million Euros of venture capital money in the last three years alone. Finnish educators are also actively involved via public-private partnerships in the xED technology incubator, where they partner with developers to help design and test edtech in their own classrooms and schools. It follows surely that Finnish edtech should be some of the most abundantly joyful - let’s explore.

Keeping in mind that the creators of both Angry Birds as well as Clash of Clans are Finnish, game-based learning apps are abundant. As with the staffing of public education, edtech game developers are typically PhDs or ex-teachers - making the pedagogic foundation of the games an important developmental component.

Read more: Why students love a game-based learning experience

Two of the most successful games in this arena are 10monkeys and SkillPixels - both elementary math-based learning tools. Other apps and digital tools out of Finland that are worth exploring in your new journey of joy are:

Closing thoughts

Marie would be proud that we have delved so deep into the rather cluttered world of edtech seeking that which “sparks joy”. Undoubtedly our explorations are incomplete, however I am happy (joyful?) that we could put a slightly more human, and less utilitarian, spin on education technology, understanding that engagement, curiosity, fun, joy, connection, pride, resilience and humanity are ultimately the best tools with which to pursue learning.

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