Variety of small models/figures made from building blocks (Lego)
Annual NTF Symposia

Block Teaching and Playful Learning

Roger Saunders, Associate Professor & University Teacher Fellow, De Montfort University 

My institution, De Montfort University, now delivers modules sequentially in six week blocks (followed by an assessment week) with 2 hours of pre-recorded material, 2 hours of live ‘lecture’ and 2 x 3 hour seminars, per week. To maintain energy, enthusiasm and engagement for three hours can be difficult, so I extensively employ elements of playful learning. This can be used to increase motivation to learn (Forbes 2021; Al. Farsi et al. 2020), creativity (Jensen et al. 2022), retention (Albin and Brooks-Kieffer 2022), provide a safe space to fail (constructively) (Whitton 2018) and many other benefits. Most importantly it makes learning FUN. 

There are three factors to consider when undertaking playful learning, priming, reflection and iteration. Students need to understand the purpose of the activity, the benefits and the outcomes. They need to reflect on what they have learned at the end and what they might do differently based on that reflection. If there is time, they should have the opportunity to repeat the activity and evaluate their revised ideas and strategies. 

Marketing (which I teach) lends itself to being explored physically, so I have tried to introduce sensory learning. Card games and resources such as Lego® are primarily visual, though they also both have tactile elements. I also use sound, for example music at the start of lectures or to establish an ambience (for example when talking about retail environments) and making the audio for flipped lectures available as a separate mp3, for those who prefer to listen. I have smelly pots that contain cotton wool impregnated with various products, only one of which is sold solely because of its smell. This encourages students to think about perceived value and emotional buying behaviour. I do blind taste tests with students, using various sparkling waters, asking them to identify the most and the least expensive product, which allows us to consider USPs and the impact of branding on perceived value. As well as having the opportunity to touch items I also use kinaesthetic learning, asking students to move about the room when considering segmentation, or when playing a multiple-choice quiz.  

I use a range of quizzes for weekly testing of learning, largely based on game shows, such as The Million Pound Drop, in my case converted to the 100 Smartie Drop. This helps make continuous assessment more fun and, as they play in table teams with a small prize, more competitive.  

I have devised a range of card games using different formats. Single flash cards and story cards that can be used for ice-breakers, pairs that can be linked (such as symptoms and diseases) and dynamic case study cards. Cards that can be grouped (classifications) and ordered (ranking and evaluating), to collecting sets using the mechanics of rummy or go fish (which have been used to teach everything from cardiology to protein purification) to full blown deck building games (like the one I have created as an introduction to marketing). 

Roger delivered an engaging showcase on this topic at #ANTF2024 symposium


Alfarsi, G., Tawafak, R., ElDow, A., Malik, S., Jabbar, J. and Sideiri, A. (2020) General View about Games based Learning: Literature Review. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Culture Heritage, Education, Sustainable Tourism, and Innovation Technologies (CESIT 2020), pp. 139-145. 

Albin, T. and Brooks-Kieffer, J. (2022) Git going with LEGO: A playful partnership for making sense of technology. Journal of Play in Adulthood, 4(2), pp. 177-204. 

Forbes, L. (2021) The Process of Play in Learning in Higher Education: A Phenomenological Study. Journal of Teaching and Learning, 15(1), pp. 57-73. 

Jensen, J., Pedersen, O., Lund, O. and Skovbjerg, H. (2022) Playful approaches to learning as a realm for the humanities in the culture of higher education: A hermeneutical literature review. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 21(2), pp. 198-219. 

Whitton, N. (2018) Playful learning: tools, techniques, and tactics. Research in Learning Technology, 26, pp. 1-12. 

X (formerly Twitter): Follow @RogerLecturer for more information about playful learning in block teaching