Play reduces stress and forms deeper connection

June 20, 2021

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Play reduces stress and forms deeper connection

A new study found higher education students are more engaged and motivated when they are taught using playful pedagogy rather than the traditional lecture-based method. The study was published in the Journal of Teaching and Learning.

While many educators in higher education believe play is a method that is solely used for elementary education, the researchers behind the latest study argue that play is important in post-secondary education to enhance student learning outcomes.

Throughout the spring 2020 semester, they observed students who were enrolled in three courses who were between the ages of 23-43. To introduce playful pedagogy, the teachers included games and play, not always tied to the content of that day’s lesson, at the start of each class. They then provided many opportunities for role-play to practice counseling skills, and designed competitions within class activities.

During the study, students mentioned they saw more opportunities for growth while learning in a highly interactive environment. Students also described that the hands-on nature of learning through play established a means for skill acquisition, and they were able to retain the content more effectively.

What the researchers say: “As we grow older, we’re conditioned to believe that play is trivial, childish, and a waste of time,” said the lead author. “This social script about play leads to it being excluded from higher education. A more interactive learning approach leads to a deeper and more rigorous connection to the material.”

To maintain what she described as “rigor” within higher education, the most common approach tends to be lecture-based learning. However, according to the researcher, this mode of education is counter to the very outcomes educators set out to achieve.

The results of the study suggest there is a unique and powerful classroom experience when play is valued and used in the learning process. According to the author, students who participated in this study also indicated that play increased positive emotions and connections with other students and the professor in the course.

“I also saw that when I introduced play, it helped students let their guard down and allowed them to reduce their stress, fear, or anxiety,” she said. “Play even motivated students to be vulnerably engaged, take risks, and feel more connected to the content.”

Play is underutilized and devalued in higher education, according to the lead author. She suggests educators reevaluate their understanding of using play in graduate courses. Playful pedagogy creates an interactive and warm learning environment, resulting in greater understanding of the material. This method is also more aligned with the humanistic missions and values of universities and programs.

So, what? Many studies have shown that play is vital to both work and learning. Our DNA is geared to doing better that which we find to be fun. Also, the main learning neurochemical—dopamine—is also the “pleasure” neurotransmitter.

Studies done in 2009 and subsequently have shown that humans are  genetically geared to do that which they enjoy the process of doing—whether its hunting, gathering, lawyering, accounting or hacking. If people don’t enjoy their work or learning they won’t consistently do it well or be engaged with their school, or workplace.

If you’re leading a team, find ways to make the work engaging, fun and relationship-orientated—that will increase your productivity and the commitment of the team to yourself.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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