Playful Learning is where I’ve spent a large part of my time the past 5-6 years.

This track is about all the many, many ways, in which learning and education can benefit from working with games, and, perhaps more importantly, becoming more playful.

One popular approach is using actual games to support and facilitate the process of learning – about, in principle, anything.

This game was what got me started in this area:

While I could point out several problems in the way that game is a game, I was inspired by students suddenly engaging in the complex conflict because they felt like they had a say, and could talk to actual (virtual) people (among other things).

Where the above is a “serious” games, a game developed for educational purposes, I see more and more amazing projects with all kinds of games, that was initially made for no other purpose than to be played.

Sim City.


The Walking Dead.

Angry Birds.

More than any other game, I see people using Minecraft in a million different ways:

Another approach could be allowing students to develop their own games in school. You can do this to work with the “game literacy” of students by exploring the mechanics & often invisible “inner workings” of games. You can also make games because it’s a creative process, that can foster important skills like curiosity, collaboration, communication, creativity, programming etc.

Making games also resonates with the notion of “participatory culture” and the popular “Maker Movement“, that argue in favor of a shift from more or less passive consumption towards active production and participation.

Then there’s the approach, that considers games a better model for designing structures around learning, than anything we have ever done within education.

I guess the always inspiring James Paul Gee is one of the most prominent proponents of this:

That’s all games.

What about play without games?

Is there an irreconcilable clash between the relatively rigid structures and goal orientation of education, and the seemingly unregulated way kids (and adults, if I may!) play?

It’s not that a more playful stance in education would collide with ambitious learning goals.

On the contrary.

The major problem is probably, that our current goals are not ambitious enough and too tied up in the same old goals, measured in the same old way.

Danish creativity researcher Lene Tangaard claims, that formal education has a certain reluctance to fully embrace creativity, as it’s so terribly hard to A) measure and B) control. If you ask people to really be creative, there’s an inherent risk, that the output won’t be what you expected. Well, that’s a success criterion, right?

I think the same, to an extent, goes for allowing a more playful approach to learning. When we play, we explore the world and our social relationships in new, curious and creative ways. We are more willing to interact differently, to approach problems differently, to keep playing despite challenges and having to adopt new roles.

None of this is easy to control, neither the process nor the outcome.

Just as we often talk about creativity without actually allowing the space for people to be creative, so it seems we’re increasingly “sneakily redefining play“, so that it suits our educational goals.

This is, of course, not the value of play in education.

It’s the other way around.

Not making play more like school, but making school more like play.

In my mind, “playful learning” is also a much needed counterreaction to the widespread focus on rigid testing of skills, that might not be what’s most important in society today and in the future.

These things are what “playful learning” is about, and it’s some of the areas, that CounterPlay will cover. It’s not, however, everything playful learning can be.

I’m sure your interpretation is different than mine, and CounterPlay is interested in any perspective on “playful learning” imaginable. It’s a point at the very core of the festival, actually – we need to explore the field together to uncover all the valuable perspectives.

Let’s start talking, playing & learning – right now!

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Mathias Poulsen

I think a playful mindset is essential for us to live better lives together. I organise the CounterPlay Festival to cultivate a #playfulsociety.

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