The founder of app Poio on the importance of gamification to keep children learning

The founder of app Poio on the importance of gamification to keep children learning

Poio is a Norwegian app that helps children learn to read through play, which launched in the UK last month with the aim of addressing the issue of poor literacy. The Oslo-based startup's c.e.o. and founder Daniel Senn tells us more about it.

What's the pitch?

Poio is an app and learning method which allows children to teach themselves to read without the need for external supervision, in a fun, gamified way. The method is designed to place the child in charge of their learning process, and our email service helps parents support their child on their learning journey. Poio is, in short, personalised learning that adapts to your child's ability, level and explorative playful nature.

We are revolutionising the learning process by gamifying the learning guidelines around fast letter progression, as advocated by The Norwegian Reading Center (a research centre within the Faculty of Arts and Education at Norway’s University of Stavanger). Poio enables children to crack the ‘reading code’ through phonics - the repetitive practice of letter sounds - which they can then blend together to form complete words.  

The goal of the game is for children to teach a troll (named Poio), and in turn themselves, to read a storybook. Words are cleverly broken-down into individual phonetic letter sounds, helping the child to familiarise themselves with the letter and its corresponding sound. The child is then encouraged to spell out full words and drag them into a virtual book in order to advance the story.

Additional literacy exercises are found throughout the game, with the difficulty of the game automatically adapting to each individual child’s skill level. Parents also receive an email progress report following each learning session and, once the virtual book has been completed, the physical storybook can be obtained by adults to give to their children as a reward.

Who is the team behind Poio?

The Poio team consists of six full-time employees who are based in Oslo, as well as a large group of freelancers from around the world. In May, Poio joined forces with Kahoot!, the global learning platform with over one billion participating players in more than 200 countries, and combined we number over 100 employees. Poio has been designed in collaboration with children and educators, and a number of the team, myself included, have teaching backgrounds.

What gap in the market made you launch it?

I first identified the need for Poio in 2012 when my second son, Leon, was born with a hearing impairment, which meant that he would struggle with traditional learning methods. School systems rely on children developing at the same pace, which can leave those who are struggling to grasp the material at the same speed as their peers feeling demotivated.

I fundamentally believe that children should enjoy reading, and therefore, need to have fun when they are first beginning to grasp the basics. So, when Leon turned three, he and I sat down at our kitchen table and began constructing paper-based games, combining letters into meaningful words. Leon enjoyed this and soon came up with Poio the troll, and so the method was born. Since then, we have been revolutionising the education space, proving that innovation, and the responsible incorporation of technology, can be beneficial to children’s education.

Daniel Senn and his son Leon

Why are you bringing it to the UK?

We launched Poio in the UK in June 2019. Having achieved success in Scandinavia, we felt it made sense to look to English-speaking markets next. When researching the state of literacy in the UK, we were alarmed by the statistics from the Department for Education which revealed that in 2018, one in five children left primary school unable to read or write properly, and that the UK ranked 17th for literacy among 34 OECD countries. We know that the Poio method works, so we felt strongly that it made sense to bring Poio to the UK, providing a new option for parents looking to better support their children on their reading journey.  

What success have you had so far?

I would say one of our biggest successes has been helping over 100,000 children across Scandinavia learn to read in a fun and enjoyable way! Beyond this, we hear from parents on an almost daily basis telling us how much their children have enjoyed Poio and how quickly they have learnt to read - this in itself is a huge success and tells us that we are making a change and that our method truly works.

What have your biggest challenges been?

Our biggest challenge has come from being faced with adults who struggle to understand the learning revolution that Poio delivers. Many can’t begin to fathom how Poio can work just as well for a four-year-old learning to read for the first time as for an eight-year-old who hates reading, and understandably so. Game-based learning works well for today’s digital-first children but for parents who didn’t learn in this way, it will no doubt feel unnatural at first. However, when their child tries it for the first time they can recognise the effectiveness of our solution, and that is a hugely rewarding experience.

What's your ultimate ambition?

To empower all children so that everyone can master and enjoy reading, giving them the very best chance to succeed in life.

What advice can you offer to other publishing entrepreneurs?

Integrating print material and technology is a largely unexplored area, but has huge potential. One of the elements of Poio that motivates, creates joy and ensures a feeling of mastery is the hard copy of the book. Being able to hold it in their hands, after completing Poio, leaves children feeling as though they have truly mastered the art of reading. I would recommend that more publishers explore this area, looking at “Yolo Play” as another innovative example from the UK.