Every time Sherin Keys told people she was a Spanish teacher, she’d invariably get the same response: “I took two years of Spanish and all I can remember is ‘Puedo ir al baño.’” Translation: Can I go to the bathroom?
Keys said they often say they can read a little, but can’t converse well at all.
The state of Spanish education in the United States got Keys thinking. Shouldn’t there be a fun way to help students learn and retain their Spanish skills? Enter Gamified Learning Solutions, a startup she built in Raleigh last year to drive greater engagement and learning of the Spanish language. Gamified Learning Solutions is participating in the current cohort of the RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP) in Raleigh.
As a teacher, she always enjoyed creating learning games for her students, but Gamified Learning has taken this to the next level with its product, GabbLabb.
“Spanish is the most-taught foreign language (in the U.S.), but a lot of us still struggle with it,” Keys said. “You look at it and the pieces start to come together. What were my challenges when I was learning? What are the shared challenges of the students? In looking at it, I realized that we weren’t using all of our tools.”
Before Keys taught Spanish in North Carolina, she was actually a licensed New Jersey attorney who, around the time the Great Recession hit in 2008-09, recognized that her true calling was in teaching and making an impact on kids.
As a teacher, Keys understood that most students don’t have the opportunities to practice Spanish in a real-life setting. Without this, they could pass a test but are unable to communicate with native Spanish speakers.
But now, in a 2D game setting, students will be able to choose a character and accomplish tasks that require Spanish conversation skills. Maybe you’re visiting grandma’s house or going to school, but no matter the situation, the player has a mission incorporating real-life scenarios and Spanish conversation.
For students with a competitive nature, it’s helpful that players can acquire tokens and track where they are on a leader board compared to other people who are playing.
The game is still in the development phase, but they are hoping to take the place of a language lab in schools, Keys said. In order to fulfill this goal, Keys is looking to raise $250,000.
As education evolves in the 21st century, Gamified Learning Solutions is indicative of a larger shift: tech-enabled immersive experiences are replacing traditional textbook learning.
As a first-time founder, Keys said she’s learned from listening to other founders on the importance of being willing to pivot and staying open to new knowledge. If you get married to an idea too soon, it can lead you to miss an opportunity.
“As a founder, I would say that it’s okay to get it wrong as long as you keep trying to get it right,” Keys said.
For Gamified Learning Solutions, that meant taking their time during customer discovery and in developing the business, Keys added.
“Because COVID hit and we were in the initializing and conceptualizing stage, it really allowed us to slow down and take that time to think about what it is we want to build,” Keys said.
Gamified Learning Solutions is still working on building its game offering as it enters the RIoT Accelerator Program this summer. The connections they build here will help them serve the community and fix any problems in the early product, Keys said.
“It’s just exciting to be able to work with such an established organization who focuses on the business we want to develop,” Keys said. “It isn’t necessarily just one size fits all.”
Currently, Gamified Learning Solutions has an agreement with the Cumberland County (N.C.) World Language Department to pilot the software once it’s ready. And that’s just the start of their mission to accelerate Spanish-language learning across the state and beyond, Keys said.
“We have educators who are wonderful educators, but how do you make it relevant to learners?” Keys said. “How do you make it fun? It’s easy to take the fun out of learning.”