Learning Through Play

Learning through play
Dubberly Design office, in collaboration with Satoko Kakihara, Jack Chung, and Paul Pangaro created a model of play “built on the idea that play is a type of conversation.”  The interaction between to people or teams, in person or virtual creates a shared world in their imagination.

Through the act of playing the participants engage in a learning cycle [image above.]

What's interesting about this model is that engagement is a result of acting as a contribution to a conversation that builds a shared world:

Play requires individuals to actively engage in conversation.

Engagement reflects something of the quality of play. A highly engaged individual is in the “zone”—has achieved the mental immersion psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi terms “flow,” where challenge matches skill—and both boredom and anxiety are avoided. Individuals reach “flow” when they achieve sufficient mastery to act with little or no thought about the technique or the steps involved.

As engagement wanes, conversation suffers and may fail. Without engagement, conversation is not possible.

Engagement arises as play arises; it is both a prerequisite and a result. Engagement tends to be self-sustaining. Engagement contributes to fun; fun encourages further play; further play continues engagement. Yet play is also fragile; individuals may lose interest and disengage if they are not having fun or if they are distracted by forces outside the conversation.

When we observe the full model [below], the context creates the opportunity for play to begin with an act. The three areas we can develop further with play are relationships, work/knowledge, and self.

From the introduction:

We play to have fun. We play to develop relationships, learn new things, and know ourselves better. Play can be cooperative, competitive, even selfish. It occurs in a variety of times and places, beginning when we are children and continuing throughout our lives. Play is an activity through which we exercise and develop our creativity; it is a source of innovation and new ways to solve problems.

Yet when we try to define play, we face the challenge of articulating something that has come naturally to us our whole lives. Simple questions puzzle us: What is play? What does it comprise? How does it begin and end? What makes good play?

Can there ever be bad play?

This poster proposes a model of play, defined as a conversation between individuals that creates a shared world in their imaginations and leads to fun. The model takes the form of a concept map: a web of terms that relate to, and together explain, a single concept. Terms form the nodes of the map, and propositions link and define the relationships between nodes.

In play the overarching goal is to have fun—and to keep having fun— to continue playing. Play takes place between individuals, where an individual can be a single person, an entire team of people, a particular perspective within one person, or a virtual person.

The conversation begins with an act, and each act advances the conversation. An act can be throwing a ball in a game of catch or serving tea while playing house. An act by one individual is observed and assessed by the other, in preparation for the next act.

As the conversation grows, it builds a shared world in the individuals’ imaginations. The shared world requires their engagement and creates meaning for them as they inhabit and develop it. A young boy playing with a toy elephant (with a second perspective in his mind speaking for the elephant) creates meaning by referring to different parts of the room as different parts of the world, as he and his elephant travel together. The significance of the shared world increases as he feels that he and his elephant are becoming better friends.

Eventually engagement wanes, and the conversation ends. The end crystallizes play’s benefits and harms, the experience it delivers. Experience guides individuals as they continue to learn and interact with others. Experience affects how they will play in the future—and also their lives outside play.

Play is a tool to experiment with the active construction of new worlds:

Play provides space for experiment—opportunity to try new things or even try on new personas. The freedom and exhilaration we feel in play may help us create. Simply playing—fooling around, messing about, tinkering, hacking—invites juxtapositions, provides experience, and reveals new points of view. Who can say where play will lead?

This model of play only begins to address how play affects our lives, our work, and our growth, but perhaps it also begins to point out the importance of—and even the need for—more play in our lives.

Play is more than just fun

In Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul Stuart Brown says play allows us to roll with the punches and maintain a positive attitude as we respond to life's events:

Our playful natures have arrived at this place through the trial and error of millions of years of evolution, and we need to honor our design to play.

We learn empathy, trust, irony, and problem solving through play. When we view life as play and possibility we expand our options.