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How can we make ‘learning’ as attractive as ‘playing’?

It is lunch break, August 2009, somewhere in the countryside. I am attending a conference on Human Resource Development. Sitting in the morning keynote, we can see the university gardens. Some of the University staff have gotten together to play some croquet in their lunch break. It’s fun, more and more people join.

And inside, we are listening to how the landscape of HRD has radically changed. How the increased complexity and interdependent character of organizations demands completely new skills, even new thinking paradigms. How we need to look at systems, and their sustainability. How leadership is about personal growth.


New contents, old forms

I am listening, I am thinking: how come that the whole content of what we need to learn is changing so radically, and here I am sitting in a PowerPoint driven keynote speech. Seems like those new contents can perfectly be transmitted in the way we have done that since decades. Everything changes (in the content, in our challenges), yet nothing changes (in our ways). Okay, this might be too negative of a viewpoint, but I did feel reminded of the professor of didactics who during my studies told us about the need to use a wide variety in methods, depending on the learning objectives – by lecturing us, day in, day out.


Embarrassingly, I have to admit to myself that I am doing the same thing once in a while. These are the moments when I think that that new content is so exciting, we should be able to have a great conversation about it just like that.


Still, I believe that there is a whole world of new learning approaches out there for us still to discover. Maybe we need to start by breaking the habit of making learning something people have to do. Because that obligation makes us designers of learning lazy.


Locking the doors

Some time ago, I was asked to help redesign the sales force conference for an international consumer goods company. Well, not the whole conference, only the second day. The first day was to be spent in plenary, because important messages had to be passed on from the top-management to the sales force.


On that first day, I was more or less the last one to enter the room, 9 o’clock in the morning. A hostess closed the entrance doors to the plenary behind me – and locked them. In surprise, I asked her ‘why?’ Bewildered about such a naïve question, she answered, ‘of course, to ensure that all staff stays inside during the presentations’.


Well, that worked. No one indeed left the room. It made me suggest to the company’s marketing boss that they should simply employ some hostesses who would lock the doors to the supermarkets where the company’s product was sold, until people would finally buy it. But somehow, he did not buy into that suggestion…


Can we make learning attractive?

My point is: if it is true that people working in organizations these days need a completely new way of thinking, then we need to develop a completely new way of doing, of creating learning experiences.


Can we make learning so attractive that people stand in line to attend? What can we learn from marketing, the movies, social events, sports, hobbies – in short, anything people like to do and enthousiastically engage in?


Playful learning

These ideas have led two colleagues and myself over the past year and a half or so to start experiments in playful learning. Because we believe that compared to how we design learning now, we are only using a fraction of the potential of learning. And because we believe that we don’t have the answer – but the least we can do is to be true to ourselves, and start to play to learn.

What we have found out is stuff for our next blog. (We have noticed that including cliff hangers in your design is a powerful instrument to increase curiousity and learning ;-). If you are too curious to wait, you can check out www.somethingisgoingtohappen.com for some first impressions).

So, how about next year, being part of a conference where the university staff doesn’t get in line to play croquet in the lunch break, but where they stand in line to join the conference’s learning activities. Because it is so much fun to do it, they would not want to miss it.