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We celebrated the magic of play and how it enhances creativity, facilitation and learning experience in the Butter Learning Playground. Whether you're designing sessions, running workshops, or fostering collaboration, incorporating playfulness can have a profound impact.


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We had the privilege of hosting an amazing lineup of creativity and play experts who generously shared their hard-earned lessons, research nuggets, and many real-life examples from their practice. Shout-out to Lily Higgins, David Gagnon, David Newman, Jennifer Kumer, Cat Hase, Sarah Le-Fevre, Nicola Twiston Davies, Gary Ware, and Rachel Davis for the insights and inspiration they shared with our community!

But before we dive into all our learnings from the sessions, let’s understand why adding play to your practice is significant. Why should you even bring play into your sessions?

Benefits of bringing play into the learning experience

Here are five key benefits of bringing play into your sessions:

  1. Boost engagement: When participants are having fun, they're more engaged. Incorporating playfulness in facilitation creates an enjoyable atmosphere, encouraging active participation, collaboration, and effective learning.
  2. Ignite creativity: Playful techniques spark imaginative thinking and exploration of new ideas. By incorporating interactive and playful activities, facilitators can inspire participants to think outside the box and find innovative solutions.
  3. Create a safe space: Playfulness fosters a non-judgmental environment where participants feel safe to take risks and express themselves freely. This builds trust, enabling open communication and deeper learning.
  4. Enhance learning retention: Playful activities activate the brain's reward centers, making the learning experience more enjoyable and memorable.
  5. Foster connection and collaboration: Playfulness promotes interaction, collaboration, and a sense of camaraderie among participants. By incorporating playful elements, we create opportunities for connection, sharing experiences, and building strong bonds within the group.

When it comes to learning and collaboration, play is more than just fun and games; it's a powerful tool for engagement, creativity, and connection.

📔 Suggested read: Interested to learn more about playing with purpose? Susanne Heiss shares her perspectives and process here.

7 lessons learned from the Butter Learning Playground

Lesson #1. Belonging can be designed

Belonging is good for business. According to Betterup's research, employees who feel like they belong experience a remarkable 56% increase in job performance. Not only that, but they also have a lower turnover risk and take fewer sick days. Ultimately, this results in substantial savings for the company's bottom line.

So how can you design a better sense of belonging?

Lily Higgins, Founder & Lead Experience Designer from The Intervention Bureau, shared the key pillars of experiencing belonging and offers practical advice on creating an inclusive environment. These valuable lessons aren't limited to just the workplace—they can be applied to designing any learning experience where fostering a sense of belonging is crucial.

Here are the five pillars of experiencing belonging at work:

  • Feeling welcome
  • Being recognized for your unique contributions
  • Establishing meaningful connections with your coworkers
  • Receiving support in your daily work and career development
  • Feeling proud of your organization's values and purpose

To design an exceptional belonging experience at work, it all starts with a trigger. When does this experience happen?

From there, you can build the experience flow by considering how it begins, what happens in the middle, and how it ultimately concludes.

💡 Further resource: Use Lily's Miro framework to design any belonging experience at work

Lesson #2. Play and games are an extremely efficient method to help people learn

When participants actively engage in playful learning experiences, they are more likely to retain and apply their newfound knowledge.

In our panel conversation with play experts David Gagnon, David Newman, and Jennifer Kumer, we spoke about the effect that games have on the learning process. Here are our top five takeaways:

  • Start with an invite: You can’t force someone to play. A well-designed game always begins with an invitation, taking into account where participants are starting from.
  • Embrace failure: Failing is an essential part of the journey to learning and success. Games allow us to fail in a safe space, where participants can experience the immediate consequences of their decisions.
  • Learning in action: Games promote active learning by offering instant feedback loops within the gameplay.
  • Make it relevant to the context: To create a truly impactful learning environment, games need to be contextually relevant, evoke emotions, stimulate curiosity, tell captivating stories, and foster a sense of psychological safety for exploring ideas.
  • Games unlock the flow: Games have the incredible ability to immerse us in a state of flow, helping us maintain focus and attention for extended periods of time.

By leveraging the power of games, we can shorten the gap between knowledge and application, making it a much faster learning journey.

💡 Want to geek out more on the intersection of games and learning? Check out some of David's fave resources such as Doug Clark's meta-analysis on the effectiveness of learning games, James Paul Gee's classic book on video games and learning, and his favorite article from Kurt Squire.

Poll questions makes it easier to digest all those yummy insights

Lesson #3. Applied improv is like a trojan horse for impactful learning

Improv principles and rules like active listening and ‘yes, and’ don’t just help in theater - embodying them when facilitating allow us to help groups be more creative, thoughtful, engaged, and open.

Incorporating applied improvisation into learning sessions can help disguise as something fun and engaging, while delivering powerful experiences to participants. By immersing themselves in interactive activities, learners suspend reality, opening up the possibility for new insights to emerge.

Gary Ware, author of Playful Rebellion, shared the numerous benefits of integrating applied improv into sessions:

  • Promoting active learning: Activities that engage multiple senses foster deep engagement, enabling participants to interact more meaningfully with the materials being shared.
  • Boosting creativity: By deviating from the usual virtual session routine, applied improv allows individuals to view things from fresh perspectives and uncover new insights.
  • Creating brave spaces: Encouraging participants to step out of their comfort zones cultivates a safe environment where individuals are more willing to take risks and engage authentically.
  • Enhancing retention: Applied improv triggers peak emotional experiences, stimulating participants' brains to pay closer attention. The low-stakes environment nurtures a mindset of learning through mistakes - which means they are more likely to do something with the content after the session.

💡 Curious to experiment with applied improvisation games in your session? Gary shared a downloadable PDF with 5 applied improv activities you can play around with.

Yes, and! (to Butter 😉)

Lesson #4. Games can be leveraged to foster accountability in learning, coaching, and leadership development

Accountability is being responsible for what you do and being able to give a satisfactory reason for it. It exists when there’s:

  • Clarity: Knowing what is expected of you
  • Commitment: Understanding why something is required and agree to do it
  • Consequence: An outcome of the action happening or not

Games have similar characteristics. There’s a goal that creates a sense of purpose, voluntary participation that allows you to choose when to engage, feedback to signal whether you are achieving those goals, and limitations or rules that foster strategic thinking.

So how can we tap into games to boost participants' accountability with learning and collaboration?

In coaching and facilitating, Nicola Twiston Davies, Founder of Game Plan Life Coaching, emphasizes the importance of leveraging individuals' unique “play personalities.” This approach fosters greater engagement and enjoyment in the tasks they've committed to, ultimately making it much more pleasurable to complete.

Nicola's fun activity to set expectations: Ask people to share predictions of what will be achieved by the end of the session. 🔮

Lesson #5. Incorporating storytelling mechanics allows us to build imaginative, fantastic and fabulous learning experiences

Sarah Le-Fevre shared that incorporating a strong narrative and various storytelling elements allow facilitators to design effective learning experiences that hook participants in - with or without a game structure.

Techniques like the MacGuffin device that drives character actions, to Chekhov's Gun as foreshadowing, from happy or sad endings to surprising plot twists, or even the underlying subtleties, there's a myriad of mechanics that allow us to draw attention, create flow or encourage decision-making that allows us to get a conversation moving forward!

When designing learning experiences, there are three key characteristics that can make them truly fantastic and fabulous:

  • Embrace the magic: Inviting learners to act as if magic really exists, frees the imagination, gives permission to be really ‘out there' and reduces the negative impact of reality or ‘what we do now’ during ideation.
  • Delve into difficult questions: Some learning topics may involve sensitive subjects or self-reflection. To create a safe environment for such discussions, it can be helpful to frame them in a context that is removed from reality. For example, discussing issues like racism, privilege, and unconscious bias within the context of fictional scenarios can facilitate open and honest conversations.
  • Empower learners to be storytellers: Encouraging learners to share their own stories can be a powerful way to facilitate meaningful learning experiences. Instead of providing specific narratives, focus on building a rich and expansive world where potential stories can unfold.

By incorporating these three characteristics into learning design, we can create engaging and transformative educational experiences.

Sarah uses a potent combination of artefacts like music, AI-generated images, and mystical card decks to build fabulous and magical worlds

Lesson #6. Don’t be afraid to crowdsource ideas, even in big groups—host an Idea Jam XL!

Cat Hase hosted one of her famous Idea Jam sessions, this time in XL, with over 30 participants. The key lies in a well-crafted invitation, and the perfect tools to enable asynchronous sharing in a sync session.

Cat shared her rules for ideation:

  • No idea is a bad idea. It might not be the thing you implement, but it can always lead to an insight in yourself or someone else.
  • Ideas are precious. Be kind to them. Don't tell them they're wrong, don't tell them they'll never work, because it might be just a small thing in it that will lead to a breakthrough.
  • Sometimes, you have to have lots of ideas to have good ideas.
💡 Further async resource: Attended Cat’s session and want to add something else? Explore the board here.

Lesson #7. Be creative in exploring different brainstorming techniques to delight and involve participants

Rachel Davis shared lots of gems and practical tips on how we can elevate our brainstorming sessions. Check out the detailed recap she created for us here!

We particularly loved Rachel's mini-rules that you can use in your next brainstorming session to help energize participants:

  • Say yay: To everyday things, to good ideas, to everything. Celebrate and say it out loud!
  • Make some noise: Use simple sound effects to celebrate with each other.
  • Wildest idea award. Encourage and welcome crazy and unconventional ideas!
  • Yes, and: Build upon the ideas of others, avoiding the use of "no, buts." Encourage creativity through questions.
  • Turn criticism into creativity: Pivot critiques into thought-provoking questions instead.
  • No blocking disguised as a concern: Look out for “I’m worried about….)
Joyful brainstorming indeed!

She also shared three ideation methods you can use in your next workshop:

  • Worst and best ideas brainstorming: Great activity to help groups get more comfortable with sharing ideas. Since they aren’t worried about whether their answers are the “right” ones, it helps get everyone to start opening up right away!
  • Pointstorming: This activity helps a group explore ideas without just a blank page. The categories get people thinking! You can choose any categories you like. (📔 Read more: Monica Fajardo’s step-by-step guide and real-life examples on how to run pointstorming!)
  • SCAMPER-like activity: SCAMPER stands for: Substitute | Combine | Adapt | Modify | Put to another use | Eliminate | Reverse. What Rachel did here was to pick another word that may resonate more with a group, and added some additional transformation words that aligned with the new letters. You can do this with ANY word! Have fun with it and align it with your topic and/or participants. Here's her own A-Z list of transformational words you can try to make it your own!

3 creative activity templates you can try straight away

We couldn't avoid wearing our facilitator meta-hat and observing the inspiring activities our hosts used to foster connection and creativity and melt the ice. We've selected some of our favorites - with Butter templates you can immediately steal and try out!

1. Connection check-in by Lily Higgins

A small-group activity inviting participants to find an object that represents belonging to them, and then share the story behind it with the group, in breakout rooms. Try out the template here.

2. Walk-Stop-Hop-Clap by Gary Ware

A fun, dynamic activity that invites movement. You can use it as a brain warm-up before a brainstorming session or as an opportunity to reflect on our attitudes towards mistakes and resilience, or talk about functional fixedness and the challenge we have to innovate and think differently.

Learn more about how to run it in the video below - and if you'd like to run your own, you can use the Silly Walk Playlist template created by Jan Keck!

3. The Sunset Activity by Rachel Davis

This activity is a great warm-up or energizer to help people thing about challenges or questions from different perspectives. Even a small change in how you frame something can help broaden the creativity and perspective in responses!

Have a look at the video snippet below to see Rachel facilitating this activity with the group, and if you want to try it out yourself, get the template here.

Missed the live sessions? Catch up and learn async with our session recaps

Explore the recordings from the Butter Learning Playground here (and share them with a friend who might like it 🤗).

Want to access the full Butter recaps? Check them out below 👇

If you'd like to keep learning with and from other facilitators, check out our upcoming events and join the Butter Community. 💛

Add more playfulness & creativity to your sessions with Butter

Butter makes it incredibly easy to plan, host, and recap engaging workshops.

You can pre-plan your entire agenda and toolset with the Agenda Planner, you can keep the group’s energy high with reactions and breakouts, and you can keep your focus as the host by having all your tools and participants in a single window.

To try Butter for free, create an account for free or book a personal demo.

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