Participatory Learning Exercises how to Create Learning Games

As children, we constantly imagine and create games. Think back to your favourite childhood game. Are you smiling? Would you like your classes, and the things you teach, to be remembered like that? Read on.

People love games, and it’s easy to teach them something when they are enjoying themselves. Plus, it makes everyone’s life more fun. I prefer a full class of people thinking I’m a nutter to being bored by delivering content in the standard way. A workshop about any kind of life or social skill can be so earnest, it’s painful. Games let us try out what we are learning in a special space, a play space, where it is easier to experiment and learn.

However, I am not going to tell you exactly what to do, sorry. You know far more about what is needed in your particular situation than I do. Instead I’m going to give you the background you need to work it out for yourself. If you are teaching something intangible, just get a good idea of why people need to learn it, and start designing games around shifting whatever is in their way. You already know how to create a good game; you did it constantly when you were smaller. Get in touch with your inner 7-year-old, and spread some of that energy into your work.

The techniques usually involve:

Distracting the Mind from the Fear

Fear works in a really strange way. It can only come and take over if there is nothing else for the mind to focus on. Fear is an extremely basic, old reptilian brain response; this makes its assessment that you are in big trouble very persuasive, even if the more developed parts of your brain are perfectly aware that there is no imminent physical danger in the offing. One way to shut up the lizard brain is to give the higher parts of the brain something really difficult to do, so that all your mental attention has to focus on just getting through the next task that is constantly spontaneously arising. I have no brain science to back this up, but my experience tells me that it works admirably.

Using the Competitive Instinct

This technique replaces one basic drive – fear – with another – competition. Everyone, whether they like to admit it or not, has a competitive streak – it’s another ancient inborn characteristic that helps us survive in a world of scarce resources. This is one reason for using elimination games, because as the number of players is gradually reducing, the survivors are hooked by the sense of competition and are more focused on trying to win than on their fear. Before they know it, they might be up on stage totally alone, acting really weird in front of all their peers in order to win a game.

Playing to Strengths

Everyone has some area of functioning in which they are more comfortable. I am most confident in situations that require me to use my verbal skills. There are lots of games that are easier for me because they are primarily about words. Physical games, however, are much more difficult for me, but allow other performers to shine. Some require excellent listening skills or an ability to think laterally, others highlight a great sense of humour, an ability to tell stories, or a head full of trivia. In a workshop about reducing fear, choose games that will allow all the participants to both shine and fail in front of each other. Feeling competent increases self-confidence. Seeing others fail and brush it off, moving on to the next thing, helps everyone get a bit more courage to swing out and try something new. Failing dismally in front of others becomes a familiar and low-stress experience. The leader will know they have successfully used a wide enough variety of games when they begin to see a culture of experimentation grow within the group.

Sharing the Risk

Games that involve people working together as one make them feel less responsible for any failure to win. This is easy to do by getting everyone in the group to play a game together to start with. Try it out – you will see that a big group is smiling and laughing, joking with each other a bit, and a single person usually just looks pale and sick. This technique is most effective if the people are actually touching each other as part of the game they are playing, using the proprioceptive nervous system to promote a feeling of safety. Having a buddy when one is doing anything difficult or challenging, being in it together, makes us feel better. Using the power of our strong drive to be social can help release even the most terrified individual into participating in a workshop and eventually create transformative learning.

Using the Audience

Try putting together a brief show where you play the games you have developed for an audience, even for a few minutes. In a performance situation, no matter how little experience or knowledge a participant has, they are still likely to be more comfortable than a member of the audience. After all, they are somewhat psychologically prepared to be in front of people and have at least a vague idea of what is going to happen next. An audience member is a total babe in the woods in comparison. Bringing a non-participant on stage and seeing their discomfort and fear can really show a learner how much skill they have gained.