MOOC explores nature and value of play

A new online course will explore how play is an important part of our lives, from a baby’€™s first game of peek-a-boo through to adulthood

Debates about play often dominate the headlines, with some raising fears children are ditching the outdoors for their smartphones and tablets in this so-called digital age.

But Exploring Play – the third FutureLearn Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) hosted by the University of Sheffield – will discuss this issue as it examines the nature and value of play through the course of our lives, as well as across cultures and communities.

During the course, learners will be introduced to the many play worlds and play lives people experience across their life span.

Without leaving their seats, they will be transported to the Museum of Childhood in London to discover how play has evolved over time as well as Weston Park Museum in Sheffield, where they will learn how children and families engage playfully with past, present and future worlds.

The MOOC will also explore how everyday knowledge informs playfulness and imagination through visiting virtual worlds where the boundaries between fantasy and reality are increasingly blurred.

Learners will see how people of all ages explore their local surroundings in outdoor play spaces as well as look at how play spaces can be designed to encourage playfulness and what happens when players bend the rules.

It will also examine play as the subject of serious study by talking to academics from a variety of disciplines in the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Social Sciences, where experts will discuss definitions of play and current debates about how the nature of play changes.

It will discuss key issues of debate, including:

  • Does play help us to learn?
  • Can it prepare young people to be successful in the adult world?
  • How do we learn to subvert the rules?
  • Are all forms of play good for us?

It will also explore the regular media panics about the presumed dangers of technology-related play, such as computer games.

Professor Jackie Marsh, who is leading the course with Professor Elizabeth Wood from the University of Sheffield’s School of Education, said: “We’re now used to regular media reports that decry that ‘play is dead’, and newspaper columnists who lament that children do not play anymore and instead spend all of their time sitting in front of a screen. But is this really the case?

“In our free online course we’ll demonstrate that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Play is very much alive – across all age groups and all walks of life. The course will explore research that has examined play throughout life, and we’ll consider ideas about play across cultures and through time.”

The seven-week course, which begins on Monday September 29, may inspire learners to follow a career related to play or the creative industries, encourage them to be a more playful parent or carer or persuade them that play is a fundamental part of innovation and creativity across a whole range of subjects, careers, disciplines and industries from fashion to engineering and teaching to business.

There are no prerequisites for registering for Exploring Play or any other MOOC hosted by the University. Academic background and location are not important – learners simply need an internet connection.

The online platform, designed to make education free and accessible to all, gives people of all ages the opportunity to take part in a high-quality, innovative and flexible learning experience.