Balancing Play, Curiosity and Linear Learning

In the first week of 2012, there have been a number of articles dedicated to predictions on how technology will continue to influence education this year. Much of the discussion surrounds what digital tools will be used in classrooms or for independent learning and the inevitability of a changing learning environment. Yesterday, Mind/Shift posted the article “The Power of Play in Learning” by Aran Levasseur, the Academic Technology Coordinator at San Francisco University High School, where Levasseur explains the benefits of digital play for both students and adults.

Why is play an effective learning tool?

“I would argue that play — especially in the digital sense — is emerging as a pedagogical keystone for education in the 21st century,” says Levasseur in the article. Play isn’t only beneficial to youth. Adults who play games regularly are more open-minded and more likely to see the importance in lifelong learning and play. If teachers can start planting the seed for lifelong play at an early age, students will enter adulthood with the desire to innovate, create, and be challenged. Contrast this with some of the rigid requirements in AP and IB programs right now where students are so stressed by their course requirements they can’t think an original thought or alleviate their own stress levels. Why can’t we achieve a balance that incorporates mystery, curiosity, wonder and awe in learning while covering the “rubricks”?

Play doesn’t only help with academics, studies also show that play can lead to social and emotional growth. “Play is vital for normal cognitive, social and emotional development. It reduces stress and increases well-being. Absence of play leads to maladaptive behavior,” says Levasseur.

How will play be integrated in an academic environment?

When students and adults play a game, is more happening than the player merely following the game plot? According to the article, yes. Gaming encourages a growth mindset due to the fact that users must learn how to orient themselves and learn the ways of the world by doing, instead of being told what to do.

In a classroom setting, gaming allows for the educator to take the role of coach as the game teaches the player how to navigate through a series of errors and rewards. The fact that students can safely make mistakes and must learn from them in order to advance is another reason why gaming has become appealing in the classroom setting.

It’s time that all of us in the ‘get ready for college’ space realize that getting ready for life is the most important thing we can strive for and that getting ready for college and career is a piece of that process—not the other way around. Let’s start focusing on the kinds of things that fuel people’s purpose, their interest and their passions through play, ambiguity, consternation, questions and wonder.



“The Power of Play,” by Aran Levasseur. 4 January 2012. Mind/Shift. Accessed on 4 January 2012.


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