The Future of Learning is Playful

Posted on July 28, 2017

Some readers may know that outside of my Game Truck activities I have a day job as an academic, or University lecturer. This is based on a real passion for learning, which has mostly been separate from my love of gaming. However, these two passions have been converging for a while and have just come together amazingly. I am now convinced that the future of learning is playful, not just in terms of video games, but in a much wider conception of play as well.

Playful Learning logo (click to enter the conference site)

You had me at the logo!

In mid-July, 2017 I attended the Playful Learning Conference in Manchester, UK. Now this wasn’t my first rodeo: I’ve been to dozen of conferences and conventions before, and to be honest had become rather jaded about the whole conference thing, perhaps linked to somewhat of a loss of faith in academia more generally. This was partly related to my going back to study to undertake an MBA this year. I don’t want to rant, but I had begun to feel that a lot of academic work, and especially research in Education, lacked authenticity and real-world application.

This conference has reversed my downhill slide into cynicism and completely reawakened my passion for learning. Of course, the Game Truck has a lot of Minecraft played inside it, and even when played for fun it can be a great learning experience, but I have struggled to offer a workshop activity that gels with the entertainment that parents and kids want from a birthday party. The solution might be to broaden the idea of play.

This conference had truly innovative approaches, not just to thinking about learning but also in the way it was run. Presentations talked about the use of video games, board games, escape room scenarios, mascots, word play, and almost every other style of play you could think of. Playfulness was woven into the DNA of the whole conference. Delegates were from Universities and schools (of course), but also libraries, local government, museums, the business community, and all organisations interested in all types of learning at all levels.


Even the companions got into the Lego: follow @Ganymede_plylrn.

Presentations were rarely stand-and-deliver affairs: they were almost always interactive and often took to the form of feedback or playtesting sessions. Participant engagement itself was fully gamified: participants were instructed to bring a soft toy as a companion and then to undertake challenges and post to the toy’s own twitter account (click here to see mine) as a way of building excitement for the conference and connecting with others before it even began. This was very helpful for those of us who were new to community and travelled a long way to attend. The Conference Dinner night involved boardgames, retro arcades, and karaoke and dancing with a live band. Even the feedback and evaluation session explored more playful ways of doing this most mundane of tasks.

Out of the whole conference though, the most exciting thing for me were the workshops on Lego Serious Play, something I had only just been introduced to a week or so earlier. This was hot on the heels of an amazing trip to Billund, Denmark (the home of Lego!) and a visit to the original Legoland. The potential of Lego Serious play was very exciting to me and I have explained it elsewhere, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice to say, stay tuned to hear more about Lego as it will likely play a part in the future of what I do.

Later on things got a bit meta.

Later on things got a bit meta.

All this is somewhat disconnected from Game Truck business per se, but this experience has really spoken to what originally drove me to start this business. I’m now very excited to see that the incredible playful experiences of the kind that go on inside the truck have a bigger future as well. This future is bright!

– Chad

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