Thinking more about Friston’s Free Energy Principle and the implications for learning design prompted me to think about play. What drives us to learn, and then how do we learn? And play is the first answer, but does it extend? Can we play to learn beyond the natural?
The premise behind the Free Energy principle is that organisms (at every level) learn to minimize the distance between our predictions and what actually occurs. And that’s useful, because we use our predictions to make decisions. And it’s useful if our decisions get better and better over time. To do that, we build models of the world.
Now, it’d be possible for us to just sit in a warm dark room, so our predictions are right, but we have drives and needs. Food, shelter, sex, are drives that can at least occasionally require effort. The postulate is that we’ll be driven to learn when the consequences of not learning are higher than the effort of learning.
At this level, animals play to learn things like how to hunt and interact. Parents can help as well. At a higher level than survival, however, can play still work? Can we learn things like finance, mathematics, and other human-made conceptions this way? It’d be nice to make a safe place to ‘play’, to experiment.
Raph Koster, in his A Theory Of Fun, tells us that computer games are fun just because they require learning. You need to explore, and learn new tricks to beat the next level. And computer games can be about surviving in made-up worlds.
The point I’m getting to is that the best learning should be play; low stakes exploration, tapping into the elements of engagement to make the experience compelling. You want a story about what your goal is, and a setting that makes that goal reasonable, and more.
To put it another way, learning should be play. Not trivial, but ‘hard fun’. If we’re not making it safe, and providing guided discovery to internalize the relationships they need, to build the models that will make better decisions, we’re not making learning as naturally aligned as it can be. So please, let your people play to learn. Design learning experiences, not just ‘instruction’.
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