Idea Archeology

MIT Media Lab's 4Ps

I've been listening to Steven Johnson's excellent Wonderland podcast. [Shout out to the Storythings crew and our dear friend Kristen Taylor who produced it [we miss you Kthread!] 

It's a companion / prequel series to his new book Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World. [And as content marketing - it worked - it's now on my Kindle]. 

Each episode is a very digestible 20 minutes and they cover some fascinating topics.

Like how playing action games enhance your brain's develop cognitive flexibility that measurably speeds up your ability to task switch. 

And how games are the only medium that require you to make decisions, which makes them ideal for learning, since you are constantly making predictions and then testing them.

How rules are the universal language of a game. How games are perhaps better described as engagement engines than as pastimes. How learning by doing is fundamentally different to learning by reading.

The last episode features Joi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab, famed centre of innovation. He describes their 4Ps of learning:

Projects: learn by doing

Peers: learn from others and by teaching others

Passion: do things you are interested in

Play: make it fun and make time to play

And he talks about how the attempt to foster a culture that allows for and encourages these modes, especially play. Play, it turns out, creates hyper-neuroplasticity

When news articles hysterically proclaim things like "THE INTERNET IS CHANGING YOUR BRAIN" this is both true and utterly inane. Everything, every single thing you ever do, or see, or think, changes your brain. That's what learning and memory are. 

[This happens all the time when modern science, which is perforce complex, is reduced to clickbait. Often 'simplifying' actually complex things renders them wrong, not simpler.] 

The hysteria stems from a fundamentally broken belief - that your brain stops changing once you hit adulthood. This is completely false. The brain is plastic - it constantly rewires itself. Hence - neuroplasticity. 

[Check out The Brain That Changes Itself for more on this.]

Neurons that fire together, wire together is the aphorism that neuroscientists use.

The more you think about something, do something, the more that pattern gets hardwired in your head. That's the heart of cognitive behavioral therapy, and the idea of practice and 'muscle' memory. That's why depression can be caused by ruminating for too long on negative thoughts, and why affirmations can improve mood. 

Now we can analyze what's happening in people's heads when they play games, as children and adults, and it turns out something about the "play state" make our brains especially plastic, making it easier to learn. Hence hyper-neuroplastcity

So if you want to foster a learning culture, and learn something, make it playful. Or, as we say at Genius Steals

Won't be any good isn't any fun

And finally, speaking of podcasts and learning by doing, we've been learning to podcast, with our new PODCARD series. Check out Episode Two: Wish You Were Here, a Podcard from Goa & Hampi, below, and let us know how we're doing. 

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