Research on playful learning

Since 2003, I have been interested in the relationship between play and learning and co-developed learning environments and pedagogical models for different playful and gamified learning processes (e.g. Hyvönen, Kangas, Kultima & Latva, 2007; Kangas, 2010; 2017; Nousiainen, Kangas, Vesisenaho & Rikala, 2018). My research has led me to define playful learning as a pedagogical approach in which play and learning go hand in hand as a means to motivate and engage learners in joyful exploration and creative knowledge co-creation. In playful learning, curriculum-based learning is enriched with play, games and digital tools (Kangas, 2010; Kangas & Ruokamo, 2012; Kangas et al., 2017; see also Ferguson et al., 2019). I see playful learning as being based on the view of the specific meaning of play and playfulness in human learning (Bateson & Martin, 2013).

The past 10 years have shown that playful learning has increasingly become one of the top pedagogical approaches in education (e.g. Ferguson et al., 2019). Globally, there is a mission to find new ways to encourage playfulness and creativity in children and young people and, thus, support their learning and well-being. This is crucial to solving some of the major global challenges of our time, such as climate change issues. Moreover, playfulness – a key element in playful learning (Kangas, 2010) – is a gateway to health and happiness. Therefore, it is not surprising that playful learning practices are being adopted as part of educational practice not only in preschool and primary school but increasingly in adult education and working life (see e.g. Whitton, 2018). Against this backdrop, the goal of my research on playful learning is to participate to generate more research evidence about playful and gamified learning in different learning contexts.

We are currently working with my research colleague, Signe Siklander, within the scope of the research topic “Playfulness, Games and Playful Learning to Promote Good”, and call for present-day research-based evidence on how playfulness, games and playful learning are beneficial, how they are used for promoting well-being and literacy and the pitfalls and insights that research communities in the field should acknowledge. In addition, we call for research evidence on the use of outdoor and natural environments in playfulness-based and gamified activities.

Welcome to join us! More information here:
Playfulness, Games and Playful Learning to Promote Good | Frontiers Research Topic (


Bateson, P. & Martin, P. (2013). Play, playfulness, creativity and innovation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ferguson, R., Coughlan, T., Egelandsdal, K., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Hillaire, G., Jones, D., Jowers, I., Kukulska-Hulme, A., McAndrew, P., Misiejuk, K., Ness, I. J., Rienties, B., Scanlon, E., Sharples, M., Wasson, B., Weller, M. and Whitelock, D. (2019). Innovating Pedagogy 2019: Open University Innovation Report 7. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

Hyvönen, P., Kangas, M., Kultima, A. & Latva, S. (2007). Let’s Play! Tutkimuksia leikillisistä oppimisympäristöistä. Lapin yliopiston kasvatustieteellisiä raportteja 2. Toinen korjattu painos. Rovaniemi: Lapin yliopistopaino.

Kangas, M. (2010). Creative and playful learning: Learning through game co-creation and game play in a playful learning environment. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 5(1), 1–15. (The most downloaded and cited article in the journal between 2010-2015)

Kangas, M. & Ruokamo, H. (2012). Playful Learning Environment(s). In N. M. Seel (Ed.). Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. (Vol. 1 pp. 2653–2655). New York: Springer

Kangas, M., Siklander, P., Randolph, J. & Ruokamo, H. (2017). Teachers’ Engagement and Students’ Satisfaction with the Playful Learning Environment. Teaching and Teacher Education, 63, 274–284.

Nousiainen, T., Kangas, M., Rikala, J. & Vesisenaho, M. (2018). Teacher Competences in Game-Based Pedagogy. Teaching and Teacher Education, 74, 85–97.

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