INNOVATION #PlayLearn21 Day 2

Guest Blogger: Rachelle O’Brien

Ahoy! I’m Rachelle, your guest blogger for today. I’m delighted to be blogging about innovation and hope I can do justice to some of the brilliant ideas we’ve seen generated in the last 24 hours.


I expect I am relatively unknown in the playful community. I came to my first playful learning conference in 2019 for one day, because that’s all I had funding for and for a while, I just stood around being awkward and feeling lost. It didn’t take long until I found a space that I could fit into. I ended up spending the day exploring other spaces, and especially enjoying those spaces that were not planned and just kind of happened. This is what I’m really interested in, those spaces in between, the liminal spaces. We could think of them as the gap behind the sofa where the treasure lives (money), or the writing that was never written between the lines of instructions, where we can build interpretation.

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve spent a lot of my time developing Escape Rooms for use in educational contexts which is considered by some to be innovative. It has been great fun creating and developing these playful activities and watching students, academics, family, friends (and everybody else who has had a go) work through them. But what most people don’t realise is that I’m not so bothered about the Escape Room bit. For me, the Escape Room is the vehicle that enables me to find those little pockets of innovation around the edges. The bits that really test my skills because information is interpreted differently to how its intended and I have to be playful, live, so that the game doesn’t fall apart for the players! The conversations and process and teams of people who have never met before and then suddenly pull together to unpick and understand something which in most cases is abstract and how, irrespective of how abstract it is, they manage to work through it.

My favourite part of these activities is creating spaces for playfulness in what would probably not-traditionally be considered in this way. This is innovation to me. Those spaces in between where new stuff occurs. Which happens all of the time, if only you know how to find it…. I guess you could say that I am an space conductor*.

*I realise this isn’t a thing so am inventing it. It means somebody who create spaces where innovation can happen.

So, on to the task!

The challenge on Tuesday ‘Technology will save us’ was to invent a Learning Technology. We had points for those who suggested a problem which needed a solution as well as points for those who answered with a solution.

So far in the activity feed we have seen requests for help with practical innovations such as a mask that works with hearing aids and ways to stop socks escaping the laundry basket. Requests relating to productivity; including replicating somebody with a remote solution and turning a workspace into a spacecraft cockpit (accordions, swivel chairs and tinfoil apparently). We also had Darkbot complaining about being too lazy to fulfil their ambitions as the ultimate mood hoover. We also have helpful suggestions of cheating to help with playing Monopoly empire and beating teenagers at the game.

Innovation is all around us

Reflecting on the activity feed during the innovation task, a number of things struck me.

Firstly, things need time to develop. I initially took a look as soon as the task was announced and although there were posts and requests for help, there weren’t conversations at that point. I think this is an important point that John also reflected on in the blog from day 1 about the affordances of asynchronous activities and how conversations transform. To me, it seems like conversations slow down and spread out. Making them much more far reaching.

Although the task required an ‘innovation’ be developed, there were far more innovations during these conversations. Reviewing what happened retrospectively really paints a picture of how things unfolded, developed and shifted. In all of these cases, yes, innovative ideas were being presented but there was more than just that. Innovation was happening in the in-between spaces. For example, the creation of robot accordion players and a master plan for the spacecraft cockpit.

Even though these ideas were pitched as ‘innovations’ that are problems to be solved, people were perfectly willing to provide solutions, in some cases working collectively. It made me wonder how much of this is because the stimulus itself is aspirational and playfulness is implicit – does this give permission to play?

It got me to further thinking. How many meetings about meetings could we avoid if we adopt similar strategies? And if we took this approach, would we find a golden thread or would it be chaos? Does it matter either way?

In summary, innovation is happening everywhere, continually. Sometimes all you need is a stimulus, a space and an audience willing to consider it.

What was your experience of the innovation task? Did you find a solution to your problem?