The OLC launches STARTALK E-SCAPE: escape rooms to inspire passion for learning critical languages


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Nationally, there is a shortage of students interested in learning critical languages, or languages considered important to national security and economic prosperity. These include Russian, Chinese, Korean, Persian, and Arabic. To ignite interest in critical languages and related careers, the Online Learning Consortium launched OLC STARTALK E-SCAPE – a game-based, fully online experience tailored to 11th-16th grade students. 

Funded by the National Security Agency’s STARTALK program, OLC STARTALK E-SCAPE makes it fun to learn critical languages and explore related careers. The core of the program is a set of three virtual escape rooms. These rooms contain engaging puzzles, riddles and challenges that teach curriculum through adventures and gameplay. 

Complementing the escape rooms is a customizable toolkit designed for educators to adapt content to suit classroom needs. It provides valuable resources for educators seeking to kindle students’ passion for these important languages. Together, these elements set the stage for students to delve into the world of critical language learning. 

Escape rooms to level up learning

Game-based experiences have proven to be powerful catalysts for learning. Escape rooms in particular have grown in popularity in recent years, being a prime choice for entertainment. This presents a strong opportunity to leverage these puzzles for learning experiences that are both entertaining and educational. 

Using ThingLink, an award-winning digital platform, OLC STARTALK E-SCAPE integrates immersive themes with storytelling-based modules. Students navigate content packed with goal-based challenges – like solving a puzzle in time to prevent a problem. This setup encourages students to stay involved and focused on the content as they encounter interactive characters, creative settings and strategic tasks. 

“The OLC strives to push creative boundaries to foster engaging learning experiences, and this gamified curriculum opens a world of opportunities to captivate students – early on – in learning critical languages,” says Jennifer Mathes, CEO of the OLC. “We are incredibly excited to launch these virtual escape rooms with accompanying teacher resources, and are appreciative of the STARTALK program for their support.”

A toolkit to support students’ growth

To foster student development, educators, faculty members and schools can access abundant virtual resources through a versatile open resource toolkit. Educators can use this wealth of content to customize the curriculum in diverse ways. This includes the option to redesign the escape rooms, presenting endless possibilities for fresh experiences. 

The toolkit also contains a short series of insightful videos from language experts who use these critical languages in their daily work. Educators can integrate these videos into the program curriculum to enlighten students on the career possibilities available to them. 

With a range of materials, the flexibility of the toolkit equips educators to thoroughly support students as they explore their own potential – from developing language skills to investigating new career paths. 

A journey through language, culture and career

Through this combined approach, OLC STARTALK E-SCAPE cultivates an environment where students can freely dive into the world of critical languages and related careers. Students can explore this high-demand skill, as well as strengthen intercultural competencies that are vital in an interconnected world. 

“We want students to have every opportunity to see what this exciting field has to offer,” says Angela Gunder, Chief Academic Officer and Vice President of Learning at the Online Learning Consortium. “We hope educators take full advantage of the robust language learning ecosystem we’ve developed through OLC STARTALK E-SCAPE.” 

Interested in using OLC STARTALK E-SCAPE for your institution? Watch the video preview for more information or go to

OLC STARTALK E-SCAPE is made possible with grant funding from the National Security Agency.

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