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Education and Learning, Learning, Uncategorized

Playing to Learn

I remember playing a game about animal adaptations and survival rates in a bio lab in my first year of university. I remember the general gist of the game and what we learned from it. It’s the only lab I remember from four years of science courses. This was a form of active learning, but it isn’t one that is promoted very often in higher education.

In the classes I’ve taught, I have played games with students on occasion. I find them effective, but, it also takes a lot of work in many cases. Between planning, tracking down necessary materials, and convincing students that it is worth it to participate, it definitely feels like the easier choice, lecture, might be the better option.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be play versus lecture. Active learning, while it includes play, includes many different pieces. Case studies, annotations, project based learning, and others are all used in active learning, but play is different.

Play isn’t very common in post secondary. It often is viewed as being too young for the students. In addition, students often resist efforts to get them up out of their chairs to participate in activities. There’s also a stereotype that learning is serious, particularly at this level. Therefore, play isn’t viewed as being appropriate.

But what are the potential benefits of play for learning in post-secondary? Forbes (2021) studied the meaning that students made from their experiences when play was used as a purposeful pedagogical approach. They found that students who engaged in play during a course found that it helped them build relationships and created relational safety. To me this would likely help support risk taking in a class which can also help with learning. Participating also contributed to reducing anxiety, which helped students engage in learning, particularly of difficult content. The increases in trust and decreases in anxiety also helped the students feel more excited and motivated to participate in learning. And all of this led to more openness to participate in active learning.

I’m always surprised by how many kids games I have been able to adapt for various topics in the classroom. And despite the extra effort, I have found that the benefits, which include those found by Forbes but also often improved memory retention and understanding of complex concepts, far outweigh what I get from lecture. Have you ever played as an adult in a course? What was your experience?

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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