There is so much consensus on the critical role of play, from the ground-breaking work of Jean Piaget to a recent CNN Opinion piece: Want to get your kids into college? Let them play. Despite the compelling case made, an entire generation of school kids has already gone through middle school and high school since Dr. Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy came out.
Funnily enough, the most successful academic use of "play" is not, as one might expect, the extension of successful socializing and educational play from kindergarten to subsequent first and second grades. In fact, we are seeing the opposite here, with more directive style content and approaches being pushed down to younger ages.
Rather, the biggest use of "play" in academics is coming at the graduate school level, where "simulations" and "role-plays" are being used, almost inevitably media-assisted, to develop skills in the next generations of doctors, business people, and lawyers, just to name a few. In other words, the closer to the point of the real use of content, and the more sophisticated the content, the more play is encouraged.
This is because competent graduate schools understand that the goal of learning is: Competence + Conviction = Comfort
Competence is a pretty well understood idea. It is the ability of a learner to apply the right skills.
But developing conviction in a student for any subject matter is even more important. Conviction is the enduring understanding and drive in the learner to do the right thing.
I look at the conviction level by gauging:
- How do people actually behave when no one is watching, and/or when stressed?
- Can people improvise to appropriately adapt learned approaches to situations not explicitly covered in the material?
As an aside, all of the identified "non-universals" of society require conviction, and include:
- Model Based Science
- Equal Rights
- Focus Culturally on Similarities over Differences
- Slow Deep Thinking
- Legal System over Vendetta
- Perspective Drawing
- Theory of Harmony
- Agriculture over hunting and killing
From my own work, I have framed out a design approach to begin the conviction developing process using simulations:
- Allow students to experiment with their traditional behavior. Allow them to do what they would naturally do. Then show not only the immediate, apparent, and high-probability consequences (which are often positive) of their traditional behavior, but also the long term, hidden, and/or "unlikely" but possible consequences (which can be devastating). Allow the player to experience emotionally the direct devastating consequences.
- Visualize the "invisible system" - the flow of events that people can't normally see, but leads to any devastating outcomes.
- Allow students to repeat the scenarios (which means they can't be too long, or rely too much on linear content), and then "discover" for themselves the right way of doing things.
- Include the little feedback signs to teach players what are signs in the real world that indicate a straying into risky behavior.
- Put the student in novel situations that require improvising based on their earned knowledge.
- Present tailored, not generic, after action reviews/debriefings.
Play is the oldest form of education. And any parent that relies on, or any organization that hires from, institutions that don't use play will get people with only brittle, superficial, and transient knowledge at best.
Unschooling Rules 26. Biologically, the necessary order of learning is: explore, then play, then add rigor.