Playful Learning Conference 2024

Backdrop and Context

I have been to very many conferences. I’ve been to symposia that are really colloquia. I have been to many things that call themselves workshops but are really seminars. I’ve been to seminars that are really posturing or promotional ads. I’ve been to un-conferences that have so much structure they are self-defeating. The big space one that is so parallel and shallow that its both expensive and pointless, I gave up on years ago (no prizes for guessing).

Playful Learning is principally a higher education pedagogy conference that lives and breathes its own content with authenticity and freedom, but its also adjacent to systems thinking, design practice, learning psychology, and other things with long names and fuzzy boundaries.

I’m no longer involved in delivering courses in academia so in some ways I found my tribe too late. But, if you know me from innovation management contracts, problem-solving workshops, SeriousPlay(R) sessions, or anything like that – basically, everything I do that isn’t about spaceships – this is where I am still very motivated by the processes of knowledge exchange, experiential and problem-based learning, world building, and so on.

I will give a couple of examples of how the content/learning part of the conference is embedded and explored.

It’s So Meta

On arrival, we each joined a separate Beach Hut team of 6-8 people who choose their own place for their beach hut, and make that their basecamp for activities, feedback, checking in on each other, and spurious additional challenges. Compared to a normal conference, in doing this we’ve already tackled ice breaking, networking, engagement through competition and collaboration, and a smaller forum for discussion and feedback. Its takes almost nothing to set this up, and no other event I’ve been to has ever done any of those things well, let alone done all of them.

Secondly, a large empty grid (cover picture above) has been gradually filled with stickers that we’ve had to earn through learning, asking questions, interacting with session speakers and leaders, completing tasks related to the content, and more. The drive to collect stickers is palpable amongst a bunch of adults, many of whom are senior academic professionals. It’s getting quite gnarly down there. The placement of the stickers is itself a multi-layered game, competing to reach targets, but collaborating on creating a picture.

In the first content session on day 2, we explored Statistics education in biosciences through the medium of an escape room (yes) based upon big data (!) from Spotify (because people can relate to music metadata more easily than protein structures). All in MS-Excel. It was excellent, and most folks in the room gained a good refresher of stats concepts in well under an hour.

The second keynote was from the impressive Project Chakra using games to inspire social impact actions and entrepreneurial leadership in young people through experiential learning. For all that this event has ‘Playful’ in its name, this stuff is very real, and read up on Anand’s and Dharmesh’s work if you can’t reconcile this in your head yet.

Fix Your Own Conference

We’re only about half-way through, and I’m not fully clear I’ll have the energy for a close-out post, so…

If you’re planning a workshop or conference, by all means carry on and get the content and schedule sorted out. And then PLEASE please engage people who know about learning, knowledge exchange, constructivism, and FUN – to really make your event impactful. If you really can’t find any, you can even ask me for some signposting.