How technology and play can power high-quality learning in schools

school students

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: John Goodwin, Chief Executive Officer, The LEGO Foundation

  • Education technology is exploding, expected to reach $342 billion in 2025.
  • Learning through play has a critical role in education and in preparing children for challenges and opportunities ahead.
  • Creating a playful learning environment with technology can tap into children’s natural ability to learn through play – and develop the rapid learning skills essential today.

Education systems around the world will need to evolve to better meet the needs of a rapidly evolving economy and society.

Unfortunately, many education systems remain outdated – designed for old industry models and societies of the past. In addition, national economic reform often prioritizes upskilling the current labor market to transfer between jobs, in both old and emerging industries, rather than investing in the future of our economy by reforming the education system.

While traditional education metrics of literacy and numeracy are vital, society also requires learners to have a range of holistic skills to thrive in the modern world. These include creative, technology, innovation and interpersonal skills. And today, these skills and knowledge need to be acquired in a more accessible, personalized and active way than ever before.


The amount spent globally on education technology is expected to increase approximately $342 billion by 2025 as EdTech is globally considered as a viable way to address increasing and changing learning demands. Technology can support classrooms, schools and education systems to evolve at the pace required to better serve learners in 2020. However, the U.K.’s Education Endowment Foundation stresses that technology itself is unlikely to improve young people’s learning. Many EdTech solutions and services simply digitize old ways of working, re-enforcing rote learning and other practices more suited to the past. These practices rarely support the development of skills and knowledge in an effective and engaging way. This challenge is sometimes referred to as the race between technology and education, where education either tries to catch up and capitalize on advances in technology or technology enslaves education into learning paradigms of the past by digitizing old ways of working.

In parallel, research has repeatedly underscored that learning through play has a critical role in education and in preparing children for challenges and opportunities throughout their lives. A growing body of evidence supports learning through play as fundamental for children’s positive development, serving as an essential way to foster a range of holistic skills required to thrive in today’s world. Thinking deeply about how to apply what makes a quality playful experience to technology (including EdTech) solutions can provide a powerful lens to ensuring that the technology or the technology experience provides a mechanism or context for high quality and deep learning to take place.

Education 4.0
Image: World Economic Forum

Purposeful learning through play experiences can be constructed through a range of active pedagogies to create deeper learning experiences that a child will remember and internalize. Evidence suggests that learning through play happens when the activity is experienced as joyful, helps children find meaning in what they are doing or learning, involves active, engaged, minds-on thinking, as well as iterative thinking (experimentation, hypothesis testing, etc.) and has opportunities for social interaction. Learning through play with technology, including hybrid play (experiences that combine digital and physical), provides opportunities for young learners to acquire knowledge across a variety of contexts while developing a range of holistic skills, such as cognitive, creative, physical, social and emotional skills.

When students learn through play with technology, the learning gains appear to be the most significant when the experience is guided, with adults or peers providing a supportive role. This guided experience often occurs through active pedagogies (such as project-based approaches), which give children the opportunity to make independent choices in their own learning (or agency) and to create their own physical and/or digital artifacts with special meaning to them.

Technologies designed to fully embrace opportunities for agency, guidance and creation while allowing playful interaction are some of the most powerful tools we have to support high-quality learning today. Examples of such technologies include creative coding platforms such as Scratch where children have an opportunity to create their own stories, games and animations with the support of an on-line community; open ended sandbox games such as Minecraft where children build and explore vast virtual worlds with their peers); robotics systems of play such as LEGO MINDSTORMS that allow children to work collaboratively to build robots to solve complex problems); and other technologies that allow the digital augmentation and sharing of physical creations, such as digital animation, podcasting, video editing and online publishing.

What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve digital intelligence in children?

The latest figures show that 56% of 8-12-year-olds across 29 countries are involved in at least one of the world’s major cyber-risks: cyberbullying, video-game addiction, online sexual behaviour or meeting with strangers encountered on the web.

Using the Forum’s platform to accelerate its work globally, #DQEveryChild, an initiative to increase the digital intelligence quotient (DQ) of children aged 8-12, has reduced cyber-risk exposure by 15%.

In March 2019, the DQ Global Standards Report 2019 was launched – the first attempt to define a global standard for digital literacy, skills and readiness across the education and technology sectors.

Our System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Media, Information and Entertainment has brought together key stakeholders to ensure better digital intelligence for children worldwide. Find our more about DQ Citizenship in our Impact Story.

Creating a playful learning environment with technology will not deter children from learning the basics of reading, writing and mathematics. On the contrary, creating engaging environments is an opportunity to tap into children’s natural ability to learn through play, while utilizing the transformational power of technology to develop learning experiences that facilitate the rapid learning essential in society today.

By leveraging technology to enhance what we know works in education – such as learning through play – we will not only help revolutionize education systems, but also ensure our children are empowered to thrive now and in the future.

We can do this by embracing playful interventions with technology and writing a new narrative on Education 4.0.

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