Playing to Learn

Learning can be fun.  Heck, let’s just get straight to the point and state unequivocally that learning should be fun, dammit!  Learning through play is also a powerfully effective way for people of all ages to acquire and accumulate new concepts and practices.  Current neuroscience suggests that using a variety of approaches to concretize ideas and create new neural networks through a variety of sensory engagements is the best way to for people to learn.  Take a moment to go read Mark Levison’s  InfoQ article “Learning: Best Approaches for Your Brain” for an introduction to neuroplasticity — it’s a fascinating topic.

As an Agile trainer (and in my never-ending experience as a student of Agile), I find that the most memorable elements of the typical 2 day Agile workshop are the games and exercises.  Games like the Penny Game, Mr. Happy Face, and the Multitasking Exercise help people take in new and challenging ideas  in a playful context.  I’ve also observed that time spent playing in the workplace, whether participating in a structured game in a training course or informal kibitzing around the team dartboard/foosball table/Carcassonne board, repays the organization in fostering more fruitful and successful working relationships.  When pressed to get a new-to-Agile team ramped up quickly to work on a new endeavour, I’ve sometimes been tempted to replace the fun stuff with exercises designed around the team’s actual work (and some students have suggested this in workshop retrospectives).  My principal reservation is that as soon as you use real work as a basis for trying on a new idea, the focus is firmly placed on a successful outcome rather than exploring and experimenting with the idea and potentially failing in the process.

There are many resources out there if you are interested in finding games to use in the workplace to teach new Agile concepts and build the team’s collaboration muscles.  I put together an interactive session for the June 2010 Agile Ottawa meeting where participants played several great games, including Colloborative Origami, the Chair Game, and the Marshmallow Challenge:

Much fun was had and no lasting damage was done (the Chair Game can get quite, um, lively).  As this was my first Prezi and I couldn’t figure out how to embed multiple links, here are my sources in easy-to-click form:

Since the presentation to Agile Ottawa in June, I’ve learned a few new games at AgileCoachCampCanada and joined the new Agile Games Google Group, which is a fantastic resource.

I’d love to know what your favourite game for teaching is – leave a comment and share your experiences as a teacher/trainer or a student!

3 Comments on “Playing to Learn”

  1. Nick Charney says:

    Checked out the Prezi… I am also a heavy user. Very interested in the concept of play as a means of teaching adults.

    On a related note, I do a lot of presentations and have moved to an entirely image based model whereby I use very little text and display images while I speak that reinforce the words. My experience over the past year has been that people far more receptive to the message supported by images than with just words. I wonder if the same parts of the brain light up as during play. If you have any research on it would love for you to ping me w/an email.


  2. spydergrrl says:

    Hey! First visit here (thank Chelsea 🙂 and I love this post. One of the things I loved most about my years in high tech companies was the prevalence of toys. Robots, lego, koosh balls… great for releasing steam and brainstorming. In fact, I won’t run a workshop without toys and food now. Makes people happy and happy people generate great ideas. Great links, will use some of the ideas!

  3. Ciprian Rarau says:

    Thanks for the presentation you did at Agile Tour Montreal 2010. It was fun and memorable. I can’t wait to get through the references and read more!

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