We examine the use of a ludic simulation designed for middle school space science to support students' learning and motivation. A total of 383 sixth graders and 447 seventh graders participated in this study. The findings showed that sixth- and seventh-graders perceived the simulation as having substantial ludic characteristics and educational value. The results indicated that having a playful experience is important for this age group and that participating in a ludic simulation can help motivate students to learn school subjects. Results also indicated that incorporating ludus into the learning experience can improve students' attitudes toward the subject matter. Implications of policy, research, and practice with regard to using ludic simulations to support classroom-based learning were discussed.
Considerations of the pedagogical value of ludus, or play, dates back at least two thousand years to Platonic and Aristotelian aesthetics (Mosca, 2013) and also feature prominently within constructivist metatheory, having been of interest to both cognitive constructivists (Piaget, 1951) and social constructivists (Vygotsky, 1978). In recent years, the topic has received renewed attention (cf. Singer, Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006), and ludic elements have been utilized to teach everything from training first responders in explosive blast incidents (Waddington et al., 2013) to critically examining historical causes of war (Iglesia & Luis, 2016) to reminding family members to complete chores (McGonigal, 2011). Even without explicit learning objectives or immersion in unfamiliar experiences, ludic play may also serve as a means for reimagining and re-envisioning the mundane by introducing pleasure into the ordinary (Iversen, 2014). At early stages of development, children engage with the world and people around them through playful interactions that allow them to learn by imitation, symbolic interaction, and cognitive representation, thereby constructing experiential knowledge about the world (Piaget, 1951) or mimetically replicating it (Mosca, 2013). As a result, play for children is “an engaging and deliberate activity to which they devote great effort and commitment” (Rieber, 1996, p. 44), and out of such play, children can develop deep and important understandings. Current research in a variety of fields suggests that “play is an important mediator for learning and socialization throughout life” (Rieber, 1996, p. 44; see also Csikszentmihalyi & Bennett, 1971) and that the principles of play can be effectively used to teach learners of all ages.