Measuring learning through play

April 10, 2015Daniel Plaut

As the global debate about education focuses in on improving learning outcomes, basic academic skills and capacities – such as literacy and simple numeracy – are quite often prioritized as the key indicators to be taught and measured. At times, the focus on these skills eclipses other crucial developmental traits that can be developed in school, including creativity, critical thinking, discovery and exploration, which are inherently much more difficult to measure.

However, a growing number of education innovations and pioneers are now focused on fostering and assessing these components of learning, often through playful instruction and activity. Seeking to learn from these initiatives, and shift global thinking about what constitutes “learning” The LEGO Foundation and Ashoka have partnered up for the Re-imagine Learning Challenge bringing together pioneering efforts to develop valuable learning thought playful methods.

At CEI, we have for some time served as thought partners to this Challenge, helping to sort through challenge applicants, provide feedback, and facilitate discussion about “play2learn” activities. This past week, our collaboration took on a different form, when I was asked to facilitate a hangout session with three “play2learn” pioneers, on how they tackle the challenge of gathering evidence on learning outcomes fostered through their initiatives.

It was a fascinating discussion, which thanks to Ashoka, is still available for viewing on Youtube. It was a privilege to be able to speak with three innovators on their individual approaches to playful learning. They are:

  • Andy Forest, co-founder of STEAMLabs (formerly MakerKids) Toronto’s 2,400-square-foot learning space, where “digital natives” have access to open-ended, high-tech play activities in robotics, woodworking, 3-D printing, and more.
  • Emilyn Green, executive director of the Community Science Workshops for Rural California who create unique learning environments where young people, and their family members, can tinker, create and explore the world around them as budding scientists.
  • Sara from Eduspot who use video games to not only teach children about treatable diseases, but also fight them. For example, through their game MalariaSpot, tens of thousands of children from more than 100 countries play to improve rates of malaria diagnosis by analyzing real, digitized blood samples as “hunters.”

Together we explored questions about measuring creativity and learning through play, and learned about some innovative ways these pioneers are already engaged in collecting data that can serve as evidence of their impact (including video journals, concept comprehension assessments, and others). We also debated the value of conceptually separating learning from play in the first place: our pioneers agreed that play inherently has significant learning qualities, which might not always correspond directly with academic curricula, but play a significant role in a child’s development. 

While no clear best-practice or tool for assessing learning through play was identified during our hangout, it was evident that much thinking and experimenting is currently being done by pioneers like Andy, Emilyn, and Sara, all over the world. To learn more about these and other “play2learn” pioneers, go to the website of the Re-Imagine Learning Challenge and follow the discussion on Twitter through the hashtag #play2learn.

Watch the Google Hangout Video Here

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