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Ira Sockowitz Builds Learning Games for Adults

photo of students using technology to complete school work
Adult learners use the Xenos app for game-based learning.

by Tony Ryals

As a kid, I always enjoyed games. I remember receiving my first gaming console and the countless hours of excitement it brought. Now, I rarely think about games the way I did as a kid. It wasn’t until I spoke with Ira Sockowitz, the CEO and co-founder of Learning Games Stu-dios, that I realized games are more than just entertainment; they have the power to change our world.

Ira, an attorney by training, spent 20 years of his life in public service. He has served at the local, state, and federal levels of government and his work has primarily focused on economic and workforce development. In 2005, two years before the first iPhone was released, Ira moved into the educational field. In the last several years, Ira has focused on adult education. Ira states, “In many ways, I see working in education as a natural extension of public service.” Ira began working with fellow forward thinkers from MIT and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and they began studying game-based and interactive learning. It was from this group of extraordinary thinkers that Learning Games Studios was born.

Learning Games Studios was developed as a company grounded in academia. “We’re a learning company that uses games as pedagogy, not a gaming company trying to make something educational,” Ira states. Ira views technology-enriched learning as an impactful education tool in today’s society. His game-based products aim to improve learning among adults. He mentions access as a huge component of technology-enriched learning. This type of 24/7, 365-days-a-year learning is essential to the field of adult education. Ira says, “Adult learners have a desire to acquire skills, but they have an absolute responsibility to their jobs and families.” This responsibility builds a barrier between the adult learner and educational and workplace readiness programs, a barrier that contributes to low completion and retention rates in adult education. Ira notes that one third of adult learners drop out of educational programs, while another third make measurable progress. Learning Games Studios has found a worthwhile way to address completion barriers and low skill gain through their game-based learning app, Xenos. This app uses a playful and interactive game-based format. The virtual world game sends learners on missions that help build English language, literacy, and technology skills.

“Technology-enriched learning can be done inside the lifestyle of the busy adult learner,” explains Ira. Technology-enriched learning provides adults access to academic content at any time from their mobile devices; the learning is, quite literally, in their own hands. Not only does technology-enriched learning provide access, “it deepens learning, causes reflection, and teaches 21st century skills.” Technology-enriched learning also provides equity, Ira explains: “80% of people have smartphones at all levels of income.” Imagine if each smartphone were equipped with technology-enriched learning software for the on-the-go adult learner. These devices are extremely powerful when used in the right way.

Ira and his company work to provide access and equity through their game-based learning technologies, which have won a Gates Foundation grant and earned an X Prize semi-finalist position. Research has shown that technology-enriched teaching is changing the trajectory of learning in adult education. After conducting efficacy research with Xenos, Ira and his team saw incredible results. Not only were retention rates and program completions doubled, but in a 12-week, large-scale field study, 44% of participants improved in listen-ing at NRS level 1-3 and 62% of participants improved in reading at NRS level 1-3.

X-prize semi-finalist Ira Sockowitz will be a keynote speaker at the Adult Education and Literacy Conference, July 2018.

Ira continues to stay mission driven, with a desire to reach and impact unserved adult learners around the world with his product. From his game-based learning product, he plans to release a direct-to-consumer product to impact the unserved. He is also partnering with the U.S. Conference of Mayors to develop game-based learning pilots in numerous cities throughout the U.S. Ira is not stopping there and continues to be an advocate for technology-enriched learning among unserved populations. His continued forward thinking will surely change the way adult education views technology-enriched learning.

Tony Ryals is Workforce Support Specialist at the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center. Tony holds an Ed.S. from Liberty University and an M.Ed. from Lesley Univesity. Before he joined the staff at VALRC, Tony taught in the Boston Public School system.