Play as a Learning Driver

by Hap Aziz

Our family dog, a White German Shepherd, loves to play. That isn’t surprising. But what does fascinate me is that clearly our dog has very specific rules to the games he plays with us, and that different “games” have different rules. There is acceptable and unacceptable physical contact. There are “safe zones” when chasing or being chased. There are appropriate ways to call time out. All of these are rules that our dog worked out on his own, and he expects that we will follow them faithfully when we play. Play is serious business, after all.

After playing with Bolt (yes, I know, a White German Shepherd named Bolt just like the movie) over the years, I considered the concept of animals playing and having rules to their games just like people. Clearly, the evolutionary mechanism for play among dogs (and other animals) is to work on actual survival skills used in activities like hunting, protecting food, and fighting. I realized that the very same mechanism is a component of human play; that is, before we as a civilization began to formalize learning, we developed our survival skills through play competitions (the competitions of running and throwing things really speak to the skills we use in the hunt). It seems obvious that play developed to a large degree as a means of facilitating learning.

Then we humans formalized learning and sucked the fun of play right out of it.

The idea of gamification addresses the issue of play elements in the modern learning experience. Though more and more educators are becoming aware of the potential benefits, the majority of people in the teaching and learning community have not really made up their minds as to its value. The following articles on gamification are worth reading. If you do take a look, leave a comment here and let me and your fellow readers know what you think about the topic.

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