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20 Sep 2021

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Playful pedagogy: what play has to do with future-ready skills and learning loss

When we think of play, we often think of lighthearted fun without a particular purpose. But play can also be a powerful tool for learning, and not just for young children! In fact, what educators and learners alike can get out of playful learning may be more important now than ever before. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has both limited and transformed how we learn and teach, and it has clearly shown that we need to prepare students for a constantly changing world. Playful pedagogies are a valuable approach to supporting students, giving them a voice, and having some fun too.

playful learning
Learning through play: five key characteristics

There is a lot of research behind playful learning that can help us understand what it is and what we gain from it. One framework for playful learning comes from the LEGO Foundation, where they see learning through play as having five key characteristics: actively engaging, meaningful, socially interactive, joyful, and iterative. In addition, Dr. Jennifer Zosh and her team talk about a spectrum of ways to conduct playful learning, from free play to guided play and more structured games. 

There’s no one right way to play, but there are lots of potential benefits.

One of the biggest reasons to incorporate play-based learning is that it helps students of any age practice and build future-ready skills in an accessible, low-stakes environment. 21st-century skills, social-emotional skills, the 6 C’s—we know these are essential in a world where information can be easily accessed but not easily interpreted, and even more so given that when today’s students graduate we don’t know what the world will look like. 

When we play, we try on new identities and are less afraid to fail. We figure things out together and we adapt to surprises as they come. With some thoughtful reflection built in, these experiences can build confidence and even transfer skills to real-world situations students will encounter in school and beyond.

When we play, we try on new identities and are less afraid to fail. We figure things out together and we adapt to surprises as they come.

Louisa Rosenheck, Director of Pedagogy at Kahoot!

Empowering opportunities for skill-building and life-long learning

Examples of playful learning in action can be seen in both digital and non-digital activities. 

For instance, in a video game learners might take on the role of a spy or a scientist (or both!) and experiment within a simulated world to solve problems and manage uncertainty. Or, in a hands-on maker project learners might take risks using new materials and tools, going through a design process to build something that solves a real problem in their community. In both of these cases, learners get the freedom to play around, explore their curiosity, and practice skills like emotion regulation and critical thinking. 

So we see that playful pedagogies are not simply child’s play, but can be empowering opportunities for skill-building and life-long learning.

When it comes to back to school time, one thing on everyone’s mind this year is of course: learning loss. We all know it will have to be addressed, and teachers will do their best with tools they have like formative assessment and differentiation. 

But we don’t want to forget about future-ready skills here—learners have been through many iterations of how school works, and had new responsibilities added at home too, which means they have had real-life practice with utilizing new technologies, creating new routines, and communicating in unfamiliar ways – all transferable skills to future study and careers.

Digging deeper at the Kahoot! EDU Meetup: fall edition

Recognizing and celebrating this learning helps us take a more strengths-based perspective on learning gains, beyond focusing only on the learning we’ve lost. Circling back to playful learning, using playful pedagogies is one way to take some of the pressure off of coming back to the classroom in these stressful times. 

A playful activity can make students comfortable reflecting on and sharing about the challenges they’ve faced. And it can also provide meaningful opportunities to continue building identities as independent, adaptive learners.

Kahoot! is one playful tool that can be used to prompt reflection on the growth that has happened in the past 18 months, with new content and features coming that will help us connect, explore, share, and play in even more ways. At the upcoming Kahoot! EDU Meetup, I’ll go more in-depth about how playful learning, future-ready skills, and learning loss fit together, and share some ideas for infusing playful pedagogies into your classroom. 

Sign up for the EDU Meetup: fall edition to hear more pedagogical insights from Louisa.