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Learning to Play

“It’s time to shift our thinking from the old model of teaching to a new model of learning. Douglas Thomas & John Seely Brown

Play, imagination, questioning, and intrigue. When was the last time you saw these things in action in a traditional classroom? Or, due to COVID-19, in recent hybrid or blended learning scenarios? The previous year exposed and disparaged the “one size fits all” mechanized education system. In this system, memorizing and regurgitating facts is often believed to demonstrate learning. But unfortunately, this system also perpetuates the ideals of the industrial age and the preparing students for manufacturing or factory jobs. For example, it has been suggested “factory owners require docile, agreeable workers to show up on time and do what their managers tell them” (Schrager, 2018). Current education practices and performing satisfactorily on a standardized test are good training for this scenario. However, lower-level manufacturing and factory jobs are dissipating while high-tech jobs of AI/Machine Learning Engineer, information security, software engineering are rising. If the US education system relies on antiquated practices, how can we prepare students for a futuristic global market?

In A New Culture of Learning, authors Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown suggest that first, we must shift our thinking from the old teaching model to a new model of learning (Thomas & Brown, 2011). Second, the authors suggest that play, imagination, and the ability to create allow learners to learn, which is the purest form of authentic learning. Third, students should be free thinkers while discovering and asking questions to produce this significant learning environment. However, therein lies the problem…the term “free.”

In the context of education, I choose to define the term “free” as having the ability to expand knowledge and understanding through imagination and discovery, by which play affords these opportunities. Unfortunately, in Texas, we currently have an educational system by which play is a structured time, lacking imagination and creativity. So much so, students spend more time in classrooms with frequent assessments or standardized testing to measure competencies determining the success or failure of a school. Yet, these tedious tasks should also ensure students are better learners or scholars. However, you and I know this is not the case.

Texas Christian University created the Liink Project to increase unstructured play and character development in elementary schools. The program’s founder, Dr. Debbie Rhea, believes play addresses decreases attentional fatigue, off-task behaviors, and sedentary lifestyle. Interestingly, many students had to learn to play again by creating and choosing what they wanted to do for fun.


King, V. (2012, March 23). Your child will never compete in the global market unless you do this. MoneyNing. Retrieved November 2021, from

Schrager, A. (2018, June 29). The modern education system was designed to train future factory workers to be "docile". Quartz. Retrieved November 2021, from

TCU: The LiiNK Project. LiiNK Project. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2021, from

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of Constant Change. CreateSpace Independent Publishing.

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