What Really Happens When Adults Play?: A Call for Examining the Intersection of Psychosocial Spaces, Group Energy, and Purposeful Play

What Really Happens When Adults Play?: A Call for Examining the Intersection of Psychosocial Spaces, Group Energy, and Purposeful Play

Jo A. Tyler (Penn State University, Harrisburg PA, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2017070101

Abstract

Play is an increasingly popular process for working with groups of adults in a range of contexts. We are increasingly sophisticated in our ability to integrate creative forms of play into our facilitated work with groups, often with excellent outcomes. Experience and research have deepened our understanding of how to design and implement powerful and effective playful scenarios in connection to objectives for adult learning and performance. We are convinced, intuitively and experientially, about the value of play. However, our confidence in the efficacy of play seems not to be matched by clear insights into why and how play actually achieves results. This conceptual article builds a case for the importance of understanding the nature of the influence play has on psychosocial spaces and group energy in the interest of better informing our application of play as a learning intervention. It advocates for designing ways of systematically and qualitatively researching the influence of play as it unfolds in real time. A brief case study of a simple experiment undertaken by the author at a session of the 2016 Playful Learning Conference is described here as a thought-starter for ways we might explore the psychosocial and energetic dynamics fostered when we introduce play as a way of purposefully engaging adult learners.
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Introduction

We are already quite smart about play. We have definitions for it. We know it when we see it, and sometimes even when we only hear it. We know for certain when we are engaged in play. We know quite a bit about its benefits, especially for children, but also for adults. There are ways in which we feel quite certain that play can matter for adults in a range of contexts, and somewhat paradoxically we know that play works.

It is perhaps on the basis of this knowledge, evidence from both research and practice, that play is an increasingly popular process for working with groups of adults in organizational settings. We are increasingly sophisticated in our ability to integrate creative forms of play into our facilitated work with groups, often with excellent outcomes, designing and implementing powerful and effective playful scenarios in connection to objectives for adult learning and performance. We are convinced, intuitively and experientially, about the value of play. This is all excellent. However, our confidence in the efficacy of play seems not to be matched by deep and clear insights into why and how play actually achieves results.

In this conceptual article, my intention is to build a compelling case for the importance of better understanding the influence that play has on adult learners. Examining its effect on psychosocial spaces and group energy will better inform our design and application of purposeful play as a means of fostering learning with adults.

Here we will look briefly at three “strands”, weaving them together into a braid of knowledge acquisition and capacity building for adult learners. There is, to begin, the strand of play itself. We will take a tour of some ways in which we currently think about play, how we parse it in an attempt to name and understand it. Interwoven play is our second strand, the notion of psycho-social spaces in which play unfolds. The final strand is the energetic dynamic of the group.

Having briefly considered what we know, and do not know, about each of these strands, we turn our attention to the benefit of additional research on the influence of play in groups of adults, particularly as it unfolds in real time. To leverage play with adult learners we can benefit from unlocking the how and why of its potency. To this end, I raise some questions that might be addressed by future research, followed by a brief case study of a simple experiment I undertook at a session of the 2016 Playful Learning Conference. I hope this will serve as a thought-starter for ways we might explore the psychosocial and energetic dynamics fostered when we introduce play as a way of purposefully engaging adult learners.

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