Webinar 3 – Pedagogy and playfulness.

Join us for our third webinar of the series, as we explore how higher education can benefit from learning through play.

In this month’s webinar, hosted by Wonkhe director of partnerships Aaron Porter and Adobe pedagogical evangelist Mark Andrews, we share a collective first experience of what learning is through play and how higher education can harness it for success. Join us as we uncover competencies that allow students to practice innovation and build bonds for effective collaboration.


As always, are joined by a number of guest speakers including Susannah Quinsee, vice president (digital and student experience), City, University of London; Isaiah Wellington-Lynn, lead on coaching and integration, London Interdisciplinary School; and Claire Hughes, head of undergraduate and partnerships, Solent Business School, Solent University. 

Pedagogy and playfulness: Reincorporating creativity, experimentation and innovation into learning

This article is part of the Education Espresso series hosted by Adobe pedagogical evangelist Mark Andrews and president of the National Union of Students Aaron Porter. Contributors include Susannah Quinsee, vice-president of digital and student experience, City University; Isaiah Wellington-Lynn, lead on coaching and integration, London Interdisciplinary School; and Claire Hughes, head of undergraduate and partnership, Solent University Business School.


Many academics are wary of integrating play into the serious and scholarly field of education. That’s because play carries connotations of being trivial, immature and aimless, none of which align with the goals of academia.


But play in children is about finding new ways to test and push the limits of one’s abilities. If we reframe this to ask whether creativity, experimentation and innovation have a role in higher education, we can expect an overwhelmingly positive response.


This reveals that play and pedagogy actually produce very similar outcomes. When we discussed this during our Education Espresso podcast, we came up with a list of things that play can support, including: 


● Boosting student engagement

● Removing pressure from learning

● Facilitating deep learning

● Accommodating different learning preferences

● Giving students greater agency

● Helping students and staff remain passionate

● Challenging preconceptions

● Encouraging students to seek different perspectives

● Creating a safe space in which risk-taking and failure are valued

● Developing students’ creative, lateral and out-of-the-box thinking skills


In these ways, the interaction between play and pedagogy enhances our ability to nurture students’ academic talents and prepare them to thrive in a working environment.

Playful pedagogy in action

At the London Interdisciplinary School (LIS), students experience the value of playful pedagogy through the Problems Unseen module. To begin, they’re encouraged to draft a problem statement based on an issue that resonates with them. They then spend seven weeks exploring that statement through a range of academic disciplines and response methods.


During assessment, students deliver their response in one of five formats: video, visual, audio, design or text. They’re then graded by experts in their chosen product type against three criteria:


● Integration: how well has the student integrated their academic disciplines and methods into this product?

● Quality: was the product well-constructed?

● Relevance: was the student’s method of delivery appropriate for discussing their problem statement?


As a result, playful pedagogy allows students to take a nuanced approach to a genuine issue. They’re graded not against prescriptive criteria, but on their ability to produce realistic solutions that add significant value.


In relation to the role of play in this module, Isaiah Wellington-Lynn, the lead on coaching and integration at LIS and the co-leader of Problems Unseen, says: “Play in the context of interdisciplinarity is about being able to have boundless connections and explore how you can find links between disciplines, theories and practices that you perhaps wouldn’t have considered in the past.”


By leveraging interdisciplinary approaches to real-world problem solving, students explore a meaningful problem in an authentic manner. Applying various perspectives to a single issue in this way more accurately reflects the needs of their future contexts.

Using playful pedagogy to develop creative leadership

When translated into the working world, the skills and competencies of playful pedagogy give students the tools to reach their potential as leaders in a digital world. As such, a recent re-evaluation of Solent University’s business management curriculum has embedded playful pedagogy as a core philosophy of the course.


Across all three levels, the curriculum features playful learning strategies such as:


● LEGO Serious Play

● IBM Design Thinking

● Use of images to make sense and story tell

● Adobe Creative Campus


These familiar and accessible forms of play enable students to actualise the conceptual thinking of business management. They’re able to interpret and understand multidimensional ideas and integrate these into their professional skill sets.


In discussing these changes, Claire Hughes, the head of undergraduate and partnership at Solent University Business School, explained: “It was about being able to bring that business to life, empowering students through pedagogy and play to actually learn the theory and apply it creatively in a real-world learning basis.”


Playful pedagogy allows students to confront occupational barriers in a safe space where failure is a stepping stone to success. This willingness to exercise a variety of possible solutions – and to stay resilient when they fail – lays the foundations for confident and creative leadership.

Managing resistance to playful pedagogy

Despite its numerous benefits, winning over advocates of more conventional educational methods to the value of playful pedagogy can be tricky. But an excellent example of managing this resistance comes from Susannah Quinsee, vice-president of digital and student experience at City University.


Upon unveiling LEGO Serious Play during a session on creating and directing digital strategy, she could see that half of the participants were taken aback. Their reaction represents a major challenge to playful pedagogy: the fear of enforced fun.


Preconceived notions of play as unsuitable within higher education are built up over decades of exposure to traditional ideas. As such, forcing detractors to appreciate playful pedagogy is likely to backfire.


Instead, Susannah argues that the key to demonstrating the value of playful pedagogy is simply to invite detractors to engage with it. In terms of reinforcing the serious and practical goals of playful pedagogy, Susannah commented: “There’s a balance to make between saying this is play, we’re going to use some more creative techniques, but there are some really clear outcomes we want to get to. And then, you can try to bring everyone together.”


Normalising playful pedagogy is a process, not a single act. By making the value of playful pedagogy clear from the outset and focusing on attaining a specific, quantifiable goal, it’s possible to break down the barriers to using alternative strategies.

Bringing creativity, experimentation and innovation into the learning experience

For children, play is a valuable learning tool.  As we grow up, play becomes less about learning and more about distancing ourselves from learning to rest and recuperate. Over time, it’s easy to develop the notion that play and learning are incompatible.


But playful pedagogy reincorporates creativity, experimentation and innovation into the learning experience. As well as making complex ideas more accessible and relatable, it encourages students to use a variety of approaches to tackle real-world issues. This creates the foundation for flexible problem solving long after higher education, and gives them the tools to advance their industries in meaningful ways.

Click here to watch the webinar this article is based on.