Developing experiences around learning through play with technology

written by: Oliver Bray


COVID-19 has radically disrupted our usual way of doing things. Whether it’s in education, work, or family and community life, we’re all making this up as we go. But with this comes a huge opportunity: maybe now is the time to completely re-think how we help children prepare for their lives. The pandemic has taught us how important it is for children to be eager and curious problem solvers, who can adapt with ease to new and unpredictable situations. How do we help them grow these skills? We learned that technology has a role in supporting classrooms, schools and education systems to evolve at the pace required to better serve learners; that is true not only during periods of lockdown but also as we try to re-imagine what school and education could look like in the times ahead.

But what kind of role should technology play in schools after the pandemic? The school closures have also taught us that technology alone is not the answer. Many technology solutions and services simply digitize old ways of working reinforcing 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.

There are other ways to approach learning: research has repeatedly underscored that learning through play is a naturally engaging, enjoyable, and effective way to  prepare children for the challenges and opportunities throughout their lives. Thinking deeply about how to design quality playful experiences with technology) can ensure that deep learning takes place when children learn with technology.

There is emerging evidence of the integrated role of play with technology, and the range of positive effects it has on children’s knowledge, skills, emotional wellbeing and family relationships. These include:

  • social interaction: Technologies provide opportunities to engage with others in ways they couldn’t otherwise.  On the flip side -- as the endless virtual learning sessions of the pandemic have shown us -- we need to find better ways for digital technologies to facilitate meaningful social interactions and collaborations.
  • active engagement: When technology experiences are designed well to support children’s learning, children are fully minds-on and engaged in the learning process, feeling empowered to make choices in their own learning experience. But we need to be careful to provide children with a varied diet of all kinds of play, including digital technologies, so they can engage more holistically with the world.
  • iteration: Children can use technologies to test and try out new things in a low-risk environment, revisiting games and apps to make improvements over time. Children need to be supported in not just following a fixed path, but in setting their own goals, testing ideas, trying out new things and creating content.
  • meaningful: The use of technologies, apps and games should relate to non-digital interests and children’s everyday lives. Because new technologies can be highly tailored to individual children, they can experience learning that is personally relevant and meaningful to them. It can also reflect more diversity in terms of culture, race and ethnicity, language and gender.
  • the joy of learning: Technologies provide a range of new opportunities for creation, experimentation, and collaboration that children love. When technology empowers children, they feel the joy and pride of being the master of their own learning.


The LEGO Foundation can clearly see the potential of combining learning through play and technology. That’s why we’re embarking on a new four-year, collaborative project, starting in January 2021, which aims to scale Learning through Play with Technology in the formal education systems in Brazil, Kenya and Rwanda. These approaches will initially include:

Creative Coding, including the use of open-ended visual programming languages such as Scratch and Scratch Junior that allow children to create their own stories, games and animations.

Robotics, including the design, construction, operation and programming of robots to carry out automated tasks to solve problems.

Making / Tinkering, including creating opportunities for young people to engage in hands-on experiences, to learn from failures, to think with their hands and be provided with unstructured time for young people to explore and invent.

To help us realise this ambition. The LEGO Foundation has partnered with four specialist partners who will work with country partners to co-create a wide range of experiences for learners, as well as co-design teacher professional development and leadership opportunities. Each partner brings expertise across the fields of creative coding, robotics and making / tinkering but also a deep understanding of at least one specialist area. These partners are:

The Lifelong Kindergarten Group (LLK) at the MIT Media Lab - LLK develops technologies, activities, and communities to engage young people, from all backgrounds, in creative learning experiences, so they can develop their thinking, their voices, and their identities. As well as bringing expertise in creative coding, robotics and making / tinkering, LLK will be the specialist partner for creative learning within the initiative. 

The Scratch Foundation - Scratch is the world's largest coding community for young people (with 30,000+ new registered users per day).  The Scratch Foundation supports the development and dissemination of Scratch, ensuring that it remains free for everyone. It is founded firmly on the belief that learning to code is not simply about gaining a set of technical skills. But, it is about developing a voice and learning how to organize, express, and share ideas. The Scratch Foundation will be the specialist partner for creative coding within the Initiative. 

The Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) at Tufts University - CEEO is dedicated toward improving engineering and robotics education in the classroom; from the early years to college. It focuses on increasing student and teacher excitement for learning STEM; improving student and teacher skills so learning is more enjoyable; increasing the general public's technological literacy; and increasing the awareness of the importance of STEM for society. The CEEO will be the specialist partner for robotics within the Initiative.  

The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium - The Tinkering Studio is an immersive, active, creative space at the Exploratorium where visitors can slow down, become deeply engaged in an investigation of scientific phenomena, and make something that fully represents their ideas and aesthetic. The Tinkering Studio will be the specialist partner for making / tinkering.

The whole world has changed, and there’s no going back to normal. When we emerge from this pandemic and re-imagine what we want for our children, this extraordinary team of partners will be there to help us redefine what meaningful learning looks like. Together we will transform education, empowering children to meet a brighter future by Learning through Play with Technology.