Play with a purpose November 16, 2015 January 25, 2017 Gill Brabner

Yes I know, it sounds like some Music Hall joke but purposeful play has been on my mind for a couple of weeks now.

Immersed in learning outcomes though I am,  it is still very easy to get caught up with the fun of designing games and forget that in the world of workplace learning and development, games and play must have a purpose.

I have been part of a student group designing a game in Google Earth for our fellow students taking the MSc in Digital Education at Edinburgh University. I have learned a lot from participating in this activity but it was this comment from a fellow student who had played our game which stopped me in my tracks:

 it was just the right amount of difficulty plus solvability for me to get a good sense of achievement.  But the theme of what I am learning about seems to keep changing, so I would be interested to know what the learning objectives are, once I finish

Yep!  That brought me down to earth!  What a great reminder: for L&D the game itself is not enough, we must be able to answer the inevitable questions:

  • why do I need to know this?
  • how will this help me deliver against my objectives?
  • how will this help me manage my team more effectively?

Knowles 1998, reminds us that we need to provide a clear purpose for any learning activity if we want adults to invest time and energy in learning. And workplace learners want to be able to learn at a time when it suits them, fitting learning around work and family life means that we are increasingly delivering online L&D sessions in the evenings, and sometimes at short-notice in order to meet the needs of our learners. Just-in-time learning, which was once the preferred option for entrepreneurs and few if any others, seems to have taken hold, now that bite-sized learning in almost any topic can be found in an instance on youtube.

And if our learners are giving up their evening to participate in a learning activity, even one which is great fun, then they have a right to expect that the time and energy they invest is going to pay them back in terms of tangible, transferable learning.

Play needs a purpose at work.



Knowles, M. (1998). The Adult Learner (5th edn). Houston, TX: Butterworth-