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The project 'Learning Games' meant 'Learning from Games' as much as using 'Games for Learning'. The main interest of our partnership was to develop a framework in which we can discuss the issues around learning and playing in the adult education environment. Starting with our initial ideas on a flexible framework to better understand the playing activity of learning games, we ran an exchange of good practices, expanding and deepening the discourse on games for learning.

The discussion focused primarily on how to articulate the experience gained through the practice of playing games. The theoretical material published on the topic was used as reference and support but did not play a significant role in our conversations and observations. Our concerns as teachers, trainers, and facilitators were motivation, participation, and measuring the impact.

In this project, we understood Games as participatory live games, not computer-based games. Although the word games (particularly in education), has been hijacked by virtual games involving the use of devices to play them, bringing back the human-to-human factor was of paramount importance in the project 'Learning Games'.

The following summary is an attempt to highlight discursive aspects of the project. It represents a micro-fractional part of an overall discourse on the topic of learning games.
The observations of each participant are related to their experience with the games played, during or parallel to the project, and to his particular area of expertise or interest.

Since the publication of "Homo Ludens" in 1938 by Johan Huizinga the very idea of playing and games has developed enormously, sharpening the field of activity but at the same time making the meaning of 'playing' even more nebulous.
Our project aim was 'to open a new field of critical discourse and common practice', and we gave our best in doing so.

During the 24 months of the duration of the project, we followed a simple method of interaction and research thus clarifying some of the structures rooted in our own sociocultural and psychological environments that affect the way we approach 'playing games' in general and cognitive games in particular.

Within our consortium, there is a general agreement that the project 'Learning Games' did an excellent job in setting a base of understanding the processes in adult education that will support the discussion about a shared future for adult education in Europe.

Playing vs Working. Understanding the concept of 'playing' in a cross-cultural environment

The multinational and multilingual character of the participating partners adds even more significance to the results. We may play the same games, but is the ultimate understanding of what we are doing equal, similar, or different from one culture to another, one individual to another?
In our consortium, six different languages were represented (even eight, counting people speaking languages other than their mother tongue).
From the beginning, the word 'play' was used as a common denominator. 'Playing' in the English language has numerous meanings and applications which is not the case in other languages. As practitioners, we have to concentrate more on the kind of activity we carried out than the name we give to it.
Focusing on the playing event, we found some aspects that let us find a common feature for almost every language represented in the group: The only antonym of the word 'playing' in the English language is 'working', and that is, at least in feeling, familiar for every other language.
In other words: by deconstructing the word 'play' we arrived at a common understanding of the activity we are practising: not work, but an activity, characterized by the joy of doing, driven by instinctual rather than rational forces, outside chronological time measures.

Competitive or non-competitive learning? Deep Learning vs developing Skills

Our research was a direct one, i.e. based on observations in the field trying to avoid any ideological form of discourse. We did not follow a theoretical approach and used other references only if necessary. 

During the discussions, some issues emerged whose interpretation divided us but enriched the possibilities to understand 'The Games' not as an abstraction, (as I would say was the case of Huizinga and others) but as the games we play.
The issue of competition vs non-competition was one of them. Manuel Moura took the position that playing games imply a quest for winning a) as an act of supremacy or search for succeeding, and b) as an act of overcoming a barrier or achieving a goal. In both cases, the results can imply different cognitive processes with varying results of learning.
Mona Blaabjerg Nielson dismissed the idea of competition in learning games and defended the idea of a team approach and peer-to-peer learning.
These ideas led to heated debates in the consortium. The moderator suggested, that a game constructed to create "winners" will benefit anyone looking for skills and a game played on a non-competitive basis will boost the cognitive qualities for a deeper learning process. This suggestion was discussed but would need more comprehensive research to be validated.
The proposal of a non-competitive framework succeeding through cooperation left us with the feeling that this was possible only within a bigger conceptual context of education, and where the emphasis is on community rather than individuality, as it is proposed by the educational system in Denmark, based on the concepts of N. F. S. Grundtvig.
A 'Game' is a step towards framing the act of playing in a structure that limits the time, defines the actions (doing), and rationalises the objectives (motivation).
Inside this framework, there is always a learning process, and the idea proposed by Moura, that every form of playing game results in a learning experience, is valid, although it was not shared by everybody. However, there is another factor: the primary objective of a learning game is to facilitate focused learning.
The game 'Circle of Knowledge', proposed by Mona Blaabjerg Nielson, was the most popular and most frequently played game within our consortium. It challenges the player to set the correct links, helping them to understand how a language or mathematical equation work. By maintaining the core characteristics of joy, motivation, and time perception, it remains a playful action.

The professional understanding of playing and games

Another fascinating aspect of the use of games for learning comes from the observations of Ieva Rudynzka concerning the conception of games in sports. She takes a critical stance towards the notion of sports as a game, for instance, the failure of sports to establish a creative culture of play. In the education of professional sportspeople, the essential qualities of playing are lost, due to the excessive training at an early age. 

Traditionally, sports provided the ideal picture of a game. A classical author on games, Brian Sutton-Smith, considers sports as 'the rhetoric of Play as Power', a proposal that can help us to understand better the position of sports in the 21st century. Two questions are relevant to us: Can a game, used for developing abilities to make a living of, be considered a 'game for learning'? Even if some of the aspects of 'playing' are non-existent?

A different approach to Games in Education and Learning. The didactics.

In her definitions of Games, Ilka Birova mentions authors that have a significant influence in the Eastern European Educational System. Vygotsky is a good example, as an author, he provided the background of many of the developments in Eastern Europe previous to the fall of the Iron Curtain, and of the many attempts to modernise the educational system there. One of the main features of that psychology was the relative value of the individual in a social context. Champions and winners were considered heroes but always part of and belonging to the collective.
The "Westerners" tended to dismiss these aspects very light-heartedly as ideology. However, if we admit that it was an ideology, we must also question our pursuit for individual personal success. Are we not replacing the 'ideology of heroes' with an ideology of winners and losers? In both cases, we are dealing with ideological values rather than proven facts. The interest in the book that Ilka Birova wrote about using learning games in the teaching of Russian as a second language shows that there is a fertile ground for change and using games for educational purposes.

Going from experience to facts: Evaluation is the Key-word.

In our framework, we used a simple tool for evaluation. The subject of evaluation came up as a theme again and again in our meetings. 'EduScape' was a game developed by MMU, based on Escape Rooms, a well-known social game mainly for adults. For the project Learning Games, it provided a critical understanding of modern games including the development of computer-based training: Evaluation and Diagnosis.