Debates surrounding play explored in new digital course

  • Play is not dead, according to academics at the University of Sheffield
  • New Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) explores nature and value of play throughout our lives
  • Course will examine media panics about the presumed dangers of technology-related play, such as computer games
  • Sign up to explore play

A new online course by the University of Sheffield will explore how play is an important part of our lives, from a baby’s first game of peek-a-boo through to adulthood.

Debates about play often dominate the headlines, with some raising fears children are ditching the outdoors for their smartphones and tablets in this so-called digital age.

But Exploring Play – the third FutureLearn Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) hosted by the University – will discuss this issue as it examines the nature and value of play through the course of our lives, as well as across cultures and communities.

During the course, learners will be introduced to the many play worlds and play lives people experience across their life span.

Without leaving their seats, they will be transported to the Museum of Childhood in London to discover how play has evolved over time as well as Weston Park Museum in Sheffield, where they will learn how children and families engage playfully with past, present and future worlds.

The MOOC will also explore how everyday knowledge informs playfulness and imagination through visiting virtual worlds where the boundaries between fantasy and reality are increasingly blurred.

Learners will see how people of all ages explore their local surroundings in outdoor play spaces as well as look at how play spaces can be designed to encourage playfulness and what happens when players bend the rules.

It will also examine play as the subject of serious study by talking to academics from a variety of disciplines in the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Social Sciences, where experts will discuss definitions of play and current debates about how the nature of play changes.

It will discuss key issues of debate, including:

  • Does play help us to learn?
  • Can it prepare young people to be successful in the adult world?
  • How do we learn to subvert the rules?
  • Are all forms of play good for us?

It will also explore the regular media panics about the presumed dangers of technology-related play, such as computer games.

Professor Jackie Marsh, who is leading the course with Professor Elizabeth Wood from the University of Sheffield’s School of Education, said: “We’re now used to regular media reports that decry that ‘play is dead’, and newspaper columnists who lament that children do not play anymore and instead spend all of their time sitting in front of a screen. But is this really the case?

“In our free online course we’ll demonstrate that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Play is very much alive – across all age groups and all walks of life. The course will explore research that has examined play throughout life, and we’ll consider ideas about play across cultures and through time.”

The seven-week course, which begins on Monday September 29, may inspire learners to follow a career related to play or the creative industries, encourage them to be a more playful parent or carer or persuade them that play is a fundamental part of innovation and creativity across a whole range of subjects, careers, disciplines and industries from fashion to engineering and teaching to business.

There are no prerequisites for registering for Exploring Play or any other MOOC hosted by the University. Academic background and location are not important – learners simply need an internet connection.

The online platform, designed to make education free and accessible to all, gives people of all ages the opportunity to take part in a high-quality, innovative and flexible learning experience.

To sign up for the course, or for more information, visit:

Additional information

FutureLearn is the first UK-led multi-institutional provider of free, open, online higher education courses. It will offer courses for people to access and enjoy wherever they are in the world on multiple devices.

The FutureLearn course experience centres on social interaction, whereby people learn actively by engaging in conversations around the learning material. The website has also been designed to work on smartphones and tablets, as well as desktop computers, so that learners can enjoy the same high quality user experience, regardless of their screen size. FutureLearn is wholly owned by The Open University. The website combines the best elements of the social web with The Open University’s 44 years of expertise in distance and open learning.

Courses will be created by the Universities of Auckland, Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Leicester, Liverpool, Loughborough, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Monash, Newcastle, Nottingham, The Open University, Queen’s Belfast, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton, Strathclyde, Trinity College Dublin and Warwick. In addition, the British Council, British Library and the British Museum have all agreed to partner with FutureLearn to share content and their expertise and collaborate in the development of courses through

The University of Sheffield

With almost 25,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

In 2014 it was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

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For further information please contact:

Hannah Postles
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046