Play in the classroom provides an alternative to conventional education or training delivery. Promoting active learning that focuses on participants playfully working together, this approach focuses on introducing an unusual or joyful activity which is facilitated towards a shared goal. The activity activates participants existing knowledge and expertise to enhance learning, and also supports development of communication skills and collaboration. The most commonly known play-facilitation product is LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, but the process is not limited to LEGO® building activity!
Build models and metaphors
Play in the classroom builds on theories of action-based and double loop learning. The method employs structured playing to support open communication, inhibit unproductive hierarchies and generate creativity. It’s a dynamic method which can help activate participant’s rational and aesthetic knowledge processes, facilitated to support collaborative feedback to build consensus and encourage participative decisionmaking. It is easily adapted to a wide range of objectives, and a particularly engaging way to generate educational outcomes or build solutions from existing multi-disciplinary internal expertise. The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® approach has been heavily studied and used by hundreds of large and small organisations, though action learning practice has an even longer history.
Is play really used in universities? It seems a bit…childish?
Yes! Because joyful and playful activities support engagement in the classroom, many educators are embracing a diverse range of playful tasks. After all, competitive exercises are a foundational part of many educational traditions; things like quizzes and performance tables have just become so common and embedded in our practice we no longer think of them as playful. Professor Alison James completed a wide ranging study of play in higher education in the UK in 2022, which highlights a common optimism about the practice of play in contemporary HE.
The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method and materials
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is an open-source process developed by the LEGO group and used in organisations from the NHS to NASA. The process applies action learning theories to motivate and engage participants. But mostly it involves playing with LEGO bricks! All the hard work of thinking and planning is in the hands of the facilitator.
The facilitator’s role is to design the workshop activities to organisational requirements in order to mobilise existing knowledge and capabilities. The activities utilise model building, and participants undertake ‘build challenges’ aimed at outcomes such as building trust, learning, strategic planning or innovation. There’s a wide range of possibilities. More detail on the method is provided by LEGO here, and you can also find information on the growing evidence base for serious play at https://drlauramitchell.wordpress.com/evidence/
Facilitation using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method and materials is particularly suited to;
- Building and affirming team identities at away days or onboarding,
- Supporting professional development activities,
- Renewing or developing strategic direction,
- Communicating and negotiating change,
- Ideation and new product development,
- Kickstarting innovation
Artistic Learning Interventions
Artistic interventions provide participants with creative freedom to explore ideas through aesthetic expression. These interventions can be very diverse and often rely upon the artist’s skillset and the most suitable medium for participants to use. While the LEGO® method concentrates on building, artistic interventions can draw on dramatic use of materials, storytelling traditions, musical communication or visual and craft activities.
The role of the artist in such interventions can be to enable collective shifts in thinking among participants, or to provide a critical mirror for current practice. Their goal is not to turn participants into professional artists, but rather to introduce artistic materials or techniques which activate and enable expression outside of the usual constraints of a student or employee’s role.
In recent years, many such interventions have been focused on culture change for improved sustainability. As with LEGO® building, the physical activities can seek to empower collaboration and enhance engagement with specific problems or tasks. Artistic learning interventions can focus on facilitated classroom activity, but may also be part of a programme of ongoing learning.
Playful Education & Training
The appeal of play in the classroom rests in the centrality of playful activities. This has greater appeal and lower risks than passive modes of delivery, conventional achievement measures (such as tests or examinations), or practice-based learning. It is often used to complement more conventional learning delivery or in combination with practice-based learning.
Multiple business education professionals promote playful training exercises, often with good testimonials, but little validation as to specific exercises’ effectiveness in educational or management research. However, not all training is about improving efficiency or specific skills. Playful education also offers practitioners a route to support better job satisfaction or engagement, enhancing motivation through simple sociability and enjoyment. Team activities can support development of affective connections, help build trust and enhance communication, and some play activities are more cost effective than putting on purely social events.
Is it possible to use play in the online classroom?
If there is one good thing we have learned from the periods of social isolation required by the COVID-19 outbreak, it has been how to adapt classroom pedagogy to an online model. It is absolutely possible to introduce a wide range of playful activities and interventions in an online classroom, to both enhance or creatively disrupt the process of online learning. A range of digital services can help integrate play with online learning platforms, including digital whiteboards, online streaming or multimedia recording platforms. However, both facilitators and participants often need extra time to become comfortable using these tools.
How is play-based facilitation governed or regulated?
There is no professional or educational requirement for trainers or educators delivering sessions using play-based facilitation. The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method and materials, while originally regulated, is now available on an open source basis for anyone to utilise. A range of providers offer training certification in facilitation of specific properties or serious games for which they maintain intellectual property rights.
Many practitioners hold postgraduate educational qualifications in adult education (PGCert, PGDip, MA), are members of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), of the Certified Institute for Professional Development (CIPD), or are certified professional facilitators through organisations such as Institute of Advanced Facilitators (IAF) or International Institute for Facilitation (INIFAC). Some practitioners may also hold qualifications in coaching or mentoring.
Dr Laura Mitchell is a SERIOUS WORK certified facilitator in the Lego Serious Play method and materials, in offline and online facilitation, and has a decade of experience in the design and delivery of education and training to groups large and small. She is also a fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
LEGO, SERIOUS PLAY, the Minifigure and the Brick and Knob configurations are trademarks of the LEGO Group, which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this website. The LEGO SERIOUS PLAY method is ©2023 The LEGO Group