The Power of Play

How Educational Games Accelerate Learning and Bring About Enduring Change

Let the Fun Begin!

As children, we learn through play. Because play is so much fun, it creates a virtuous circle where we play and learn. As adults, with the help of educational or “learning” games, the lucky ones among us find ourselves playing to learn once again. Judging by the popularity of learning games, we can still learn a lot through play. For some, it may even be the best way to learn.

Just as children do, when we learn through play as adults we pack in the practice of doing the things we enjoy and so we begin to achieve. Eventually we get a little (or, in some cases, a lot) better at what we do every day. Think “baby steps.” Little and often.

With practice come results. Results give us a sense of achievement. We then practice more until doing what we do becomes a habit, and that behavior becomes part of who we are.

With practice, we’re able to discover what we’re really good at. Eventually, all those hours of practice add up to make us proficient at doing the thing that we enjoy doing most.

Add in the necessary ingredients of support, guidance and courage, and the moment you attain proficiency should collide just-in-time with opportunity. That’s when you suddenly realize that you’re doing what you love or at least loving what you do. Best of all, you are getting paid for it. There’s your “TADA! moment.” It feels like magic.

Because your Fun Flywheel is already spinning, that breakthrough will fuel your courage and desire to achieve even more. You’ll continue to practice and, because you know the secret to practice is through play, you’ll never tire of striving to become better every day.

The Enduring Memory of Play

Why turn work into play?

Play breaks down organizational boundaries – such as when senior managers find themselves negotiating with developers, as a team, over whether building a Mars station will bring in more business value than a Castle.

Play connects people. It creates a shared experience that lasts way beyond a 90-minute gaming session, and continues through into daily work.

Play creates a sense of common purpose. It unites people from different teams and departments, sometimes for the first time, towards a common tangible goal.

Play increases understanding between people. It clearly demonstrates everyone‘s unique strengths and how you can leverage the strengths of others to overcome your own weaknesses by working as a team.

We can’t resist having fun. Fun lowers resistance. Lower resistance means more open minds. Open minds make learning possible as we begin to challenge our own assumptions and biases, the first step towards a mindset shift.

The Games We Play

Learning games are games used to teach a skill or concept. Their primary purpose is education through fun and play. The learning cycle of the games I use are best described by what Anthony W. Lorsbach identifies as the learning cycle in teaching science .

Engage and Explore - Learning games catch the audience's attention and ignite their imagination, transforming them from passive bystanders into active learners.

Explain and Extend - Learning games present theory with concrete examples to help participants expand their knowledge through association, and by building on what they already know.

Evaluation - Opportunities for playback and reflection are built-in to reinforce learning as well as create more opportunities to refine and improve understanding.

Value-Driven Learning Leads to Meaningful Play

By applying the five Agile Values to the games we play (also known as the XP Values from Kent Beck and Cynthia Andres) we can add an extra dimension to our learning. The five values are Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage and Respect. Applying values in the context of learning inspires us to think more deeply about our experiences in terms of ourselves and others and the way we perceive the world around us.

Learning with an Open Mind Requires Teaching with an Open Mind

To maximize the opportunities for learning through games, I apply the Agile Values in conjunction with

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