Post-pandemic Pedagogy: Using Digital Learning to Boost Well-being and Creativity in Children

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders – from around the world and all parts of society – address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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As “back to school season” is quickly approaching and children around the world are potentially headed into the classroom – and as we look to a post-pandemic world – parents and educators are continuing to take the necessary critical eye to our education systems and practices. Not only will we have to shift our curricula and priorities to make up for the months of learning loss, but we must also transform quintessential and traditional educational programming. We need to better prepare students to deal with the mental, physical and emotional impacts of the pandemic, racial injustices and other challenges our ever-evolving world will face. As we grapple with these topics and our new reality, we are faced with this question: how can we learn from our time at home to build a better and more resilient education system?

Read the OECD Policy Response: Education and COVID-19: Focusing on the long-term impact of school closures

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Across industries and geographic locations, workplaces are allowing for remote work and outcomes measured on the creative ways to deliver positive results. Similarly, learning from home can offer children benefits that were not possible in more formal, classroom settings.

Play-based learning has long-established benefits, empowering children to be creative, engaged and lifelong learners. In a post-pandemic world, we are at the frontier of a renewal of our education system where integrating learning through play develops knowledge and a holistic set of skills in the home, school and larger communities.

How do parents fit into the new way of learning?

This time has given parents the unique opportunity to take a hands-on role in their children’s education through unstructured, creative and playful experiences. Through playful parenting – whether it’s physical play, symbolic play, pretend play, etc. – a parent’s engagement can positively impact the development of a child. Co-play offers an opportunity for co-learning, and when parents mix playfulness into their day-to-day routines both the child and parent benefit, including lower stress levels and better health outcomes. As we think about what will be required to bring our children “back to school”, parents are key players when re-evaluating the policies and practices of our education system. Additionally, looking to digital play, creativity can be found in abundance when adults are involved.

More on the Forum Network: From Face-to-interface: A digital divide for parents during Covid-19 lockdown by Shayne MacLachlan, Campaign Manager, OECD

At the LEGO Foundation, we are working with our expansive international research network, testing and improving interventions in more than 25 countries. We work closely with researchers, policymakers, governments and institutions to analyse the need for education reformation and, in parallel, the effectiveness of social-emotional and play-based learning. Most recently, the LEGO Foundation has explored the intersection of children, technology and play.

How can technology and digital play serve as a positive influence in a child’s life?

New research from the LEGO Foundation has found that digital play can foster children’s learning and skills development. This includes not only tech skills but also, more broadly, critical thinking, collaboration, resilience and creativity. For example, researchers found that particular kinds of digital play that are more social and open-ended can help children learn how to concentrate, problem-solve and come up with new ideas. Digital media aids creativity: digital devices allow children to explore and express their imaginations and engage in highly creative play. For example, YouTube serves as a source for children’s imaginative play as a prompt and inspiration, as well as a place where children can store their own creations.

At this time, we can point to specific qualities of digital play that will be more important than ever in helping children across the globe process and respond to their emotions.

There is also evidence that play with digital technologies can help develop children’s ability to understand and manage their emotions, like learning how to deal with frustration and staying motivated despite disappointments and challenges. This is particularly important now, as the pandemic has presented a bevy of challenges to the well-being and socio-emotional skills of children. At this time, we can point to specific qualities of digital play that will be more important than ever in helping children across the globe process and respond to their emotions. The quality of digital play experiences is a vital consideration and one that can be judged by the characteristics of learning through play: joyful, socially interactive, actively engaging, meaningful and iterative.

Image: © LEGO Foundation

How can teachers apply pedagogies that balance engagement, skills and knowledge post-pandemic?

We do not need to go back to traditional school models to achieve positive outcomes on children and society. When we apply play-based learning in the school setting, children can explore and investigate new concepts – try, test and try again. By combining play with effective ways of acquiring a breadth of skills, children should experience moments of joy and surprise when approaching challenges, a meaningful connection to their own interests and active engagement in testing and trying out things with others over time.

More on the Forum Network: How can teachers and school systems respond to the COVID-19 pandemic? Some lessons from TALIS by Andreas Schleicher, Director, Education and Skills, OECD

The purpose of education is to develop both skills and knowledge, and this can be achieved through a range of playful pedagogies, in particular co-operative/collaborative learning; practical/project-based learning; experiential learning; guided discovery learning; inquiry-based learning; and problem-based learning. These pedagogies are better equipped for the post-pandemic reality, and are more appropriate due to the delicate balance between high engagement, a broad range of skills and deeper knowledge.

As we transition into the new school year, the focus should be on incorporating more creative and playful learning through digital technologies in our teachers’ approach, to improve education and alleviate the stress, adversity and trauma of the past few months. When children re-enter the classroom – whenever that may be – it will not be the same classroom they left earlier this year.

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Future of Education & Skills Child Well-being Digital Inclusion


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Bo Stjerne Thomsen

Vice-President and Chair of Learning through Play, The LEGO Foundation

Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen is the Vice-President and Chair of Learning through Play at the LEGO Foundation. Previously he was the Director of the LEGO Learning Institute, later Head of the Centre for Creativity, Play and Learning, and lastly as the Global Head of Research. He has published widely on Creativity, Play and Learning, and recently on the role of play for children’s learning in schools. He has a master’s degree in design, architecture and engineering, and a PhD on performative learning environments.

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