How to surprise and delight learners with one simple tool

Imagine experiencing surprise and delight the moment you walk into a professional development workshop, a meeting, or a brainstorming session.

Imagine this surprise and delight didn’t come from something visual like bright colors, or exciting wall art but from something tactile and kinesthetic used to enhance adult learning.

Imagine it came from… silly putty?

I was turned on to a wonderful tool this past summer in a class taught by Dr. Julia Sloan and Dr. Debra France on Learning to Think Strategically, and I immediately implemented this tool in a learning experience I designed later that summer.

Upon arrival in our classroom, we found “table toys” (think brain noodles, slinkys, silly putty and the like) scattered around our tables.

By the end of the training I found myself practically addicted to having a toy to play with, push, meld, bend, or break during the 4 day learning experience.

While it may not be right for every type of learning or learner, here’s where we can put this tool to use:

  • creates and signals a relaxed, even fun, learning environment
  • helps adult learners focus – especially with complex or new content
  • improves retention
  • creates an element of surprise
  • creates an atmosphere or curiosity, fun, and even conversation
  • supports kinesthetic learners– those of us who like to fiddle and doodle
  • expands multi-sensor engagement

The point here is not to signal that learning is child’s play – far from it. Learning can be fun, can bring back that element of surprise and delight and can be individualized and personalized to cater to learners who crave (i.e. need) a tactile learning experience.

Thank you to Dr. Sloan for the idea, and for the research on the benefits of these tools.

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