Instant Ideas and Collaboration
“Man is whole only when he is at play”
~ Schiller (1954)
Playful learning covers a dizzying variety of approaches, perhaps demonstrated best in a library context by Edinburgh University Library’s 23 things playful learning programme. These activities have all been made available under a public use license, so you can download the materials, run them and create your own activities in your own libraries. This and other perspective were covered at the Playful Learning 2017 Conference earlier this year, which was chronicled by many attendees on Twitter. Search for the conference hashtag #PlayLearn17.
Building on their precursors such as the “flipped classroom,” all playful learning activities share the central theme of active exploration – of learning through doing rather than trying passively to absorb information, of turning a lecture or handout into an activity or guided exploration in an environment that is supportive and safe – where mistakes and feedback are things we learn from and that take us in new directions rather than marking the end of the road for an idea. We learn all our lives through play unless we surrender to the neo-Victorian fallacy that dictates that play is idleness and unproductive. Play makes anything interesting and engages people, while turning information absorption into an activity where learners have to engage, create, peer review and offer criticism and improve on one another’s work all in a relaxed and supportive environment but with a very constrained time-frame is also hard.
Play is freedom and recombination, grounded yet transformational grounded in unchanging pedagogy and ed philosophy. Knowledge factories don’t work. Society needs collaborative media auteurs who feel confident building new things are needed, and while traditional teaching methods have tended towards the consusmption and interaction with media is one thing, experimenting and learning through structured exercises where participants can make meaningful choices to produce something at the end. Designing a game in groups to teach something rather than just playing one to explore a topic challenges learners and makes them think, feel – and therefore remember – and develop practical skills, engaging head, heart and hands. Examples include exploring coding and history on Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate women’s often hidden contributions to science and technology, and collaborations with engineering and computing departments to encourage women to use tools to begin to build simple computer games they can all share and play.
Playful challenges in the workplace
Playful exchanges can help different teams get to know one another. Devising and swapping challenge your own #SneakyCards-style games can bridge the gap between departments that are having to merge or work more closely. Once again, the less serious something seems, the more potential it has to achieve things traditional methods cannot.
The challenge of playful learning is that to the often joyless, austere, appearance-driven, neo-Victorian efficiency attitudes and efficiency focused, conservative approaches to scientific management approaches that tend to thrive most often in times of uncertainty, economic and otherwise. The most important thing when designing and planning such activities is to keep in mind the learning experience and outcomes. The last thing you want is for the method to become the lesson, and playful learning needs to lead to learning!
Designing playful learning experiences
@RikkeToftN is researching how signature pedagogies are now being explored as a powerful way to marry outcome-driven learning with appropriate methods and then build classroom activities – including library club activities – that use them at all levels, including in higher education. You can read about the signature pedagogy approach she advocates here – but in essence when designing playful learnign, you should start with learning aims – then find the best game mechanics – trial and refine/redesign – make a clear, consistent ruleset.
My favourite playful learning experience ha been an information literacy session where participants were given a photograph and later other archival artifacts and asked to explain what story they told. Each group was given different objects and photos but all of them relate to the same theme/event/history. Each group came up with fallacious histories more incredible than the last. It drove home the perils of making assumptions based on incomplete information, a clear parallel for how most people approach information research. Comparing the wildly wrong stories they come up with brings home to them the danger of trusting incomplete information and misinterpreting what they read in the first place.
Playful learning is a growing approach. Jisc published a report last year on the expansion of playful learning pedagogies into higher education.
Could playful learning have a (bigger) role in your library?