R. Støckert, T.M. Thorseth, T. Talmo

Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NORWAY)
The role and importance of playful learning in early children education is well documented through research, which examines the playful learning environment (PLE) and how to apply the correct pedagogy and methodology related to the curriculum. However, the adoption of playful learning in higher education is not that common and there little empirical data documenting the effect of implementing a playful environment and its significance for learning.

This paper present research which investigates whether the principles and theory of playful learning for children, can be transformed and applied in higher education. Furthermore, it examines how a playful environment might affect the student/teacher motivation, engagement, the social, and academic outcome.

An introduction course (crash course) was developed for the first-year students taking a Bachelor of Audiology. The course concepts, were inspired by a playful learning environment (PLE) described by Marjaana Kangas as a physical, pedagogical, intellectual, socio-emotional, cultural, and media-rich learning environment where learning happens by creating, playing, and doing.
Each session had a theme without a rigid schedule or fixed curriculum goals. The methods and pedagogy used in the sessions were merely applied to supply the students with tangible interfaces towards understanding signal theory, mathematics, acoustics, and sound.

Based on a survey after each course, we found that the students became engaged, motivated and inspired to find out more about the topics presented They felt that the playful approach created a new way of understanding difficult topics. The social interaction increased during the course and the students and teacher felt safe and hence this encouraged the students to try out new approaches and take risks. Consequently, the role of teacher changed accordingly from being a leader to becoming a facilitator (guided play) and finally a participant in the playful environment.

The findings indicated that elements from a playful learning environment can be implemented in higher education to enhance engagement and motivation. Furthermore, a PLE can be used as an arena for introduction to creative studies like architecture, music, and art. We can also find coincides between PLE and trends within higher education and future workspaces. For instance, technology rich flexible future classrooms with unified communication and collaboration, blended learning, maker spaces or playful work environments like Google or Pixar offices.