Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Past, Present and Future of Playing and Learning with Technology


The importance of play to a child’s development is extremely well documented.  Research done by the likes of Piaget and Vygotsky argue that play is essential for proper development.  Research suggests that 75% of brain development occurs after birth and that playing influences the pattern of and connections between nerve cells which allows the development of many skills including motor skills, problem solving skills and learning ability.  Article 31 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child specifically recognises the significance of play in children’s lives, distinct to their right to recreation and leisure.

So, play enhances learning.  But how has play changed over the past decade or so, with the advancement of technology?  And what effects does this have on learning and education?  This infographic from Lego shows just how play has changed.  It is easy to see the parallels between the changing nature of play and the direction that education is going down.

The Past and Present


LEGO MINDSTORMS Infographic


How else is technology changing the face of play and learning for children today?  As this article explains, the rapid improvements in technology are having a profound impact on education for children with disabilities, often using games.  I have mentioned in a previous post about the amazing learning benefits of the Kinect for children on the Autism spectrum.

This year will see the launch if the new SimCity.  However, GlassLab has partnered with EA to build SimCityEDU, a version of the game specifically designed for education purposes.  The developers have appreciated the benefits of and demand for games based learning in education and have followed the likes of Portal2 in creating a game for schools.  We might just see a lot more game developers following suit in the future.

More and more teachers and schools are realising the benefits of games based learning.  However, one school in Sweden has made the playing of Minecraft a compulsory part of their curriculum for 13 year olds.  See my post ‘Unorthodox Uses of Games in Education’ for more information about Minecraft in schools.  The school has appreciated the far reaching benefits of games based learning.  A few of the ‘lessons learnt’ are environmental issues, city planning, creativity and computer skills.  Is this the future of education?

The Future

The Institute for the Future believes that this is the future of play for children:

  1. Authorship, storytelling, fantasy, and role-playing will expand into new media.  Children’s content will increasingly be created by children (already prevalent with reviews on YouTube and so on).  The Institute for the Future argues that “Growing up immersed in virtual worlds, social networks, and YouTube videos, children will develop a different set of expectations for evaluating human proximity and presence, as well as a comfortable confidence expressing their views across various media.”
  2. Play will be a more fluid material experience, blending the virtual and the physical.  Reinforcing what the earlier infographic mentioned, children will increasingly expect their toys, games and virtual platforms to interact.  The Institute believes that “By 2021, kids will expect their digital and physical objects to share more characteristics, including tangibility and connectivity.”
  3. Toys show kids how to get emotional with technology.  MIT professor Sherry Turkle places us at a “robotic moment” in history.  This is characterised by our emotional readiness to attach to inanimate objects, which she argues will go on to provide more friendship and the “comfort of connection without the demands of human intimacy.”  Sociable robots, such as the new incarnation of Furby, encourage our children to care for and nurture them, ultimately “creating more powerful and affective human-machine partnerships”.

These new technologies will clearly unlock more and more skills in children and will bring with them a multitude of learning benefits.  However, as children’s expectations adapt to these new technological features of play, it begs the question, will these new technological advances feed into the education system?

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