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Computer “play” and the development of transferrable computer skills

According to a recent summary report from the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington Information School, there is a direct correlation between using computers for entertainment purposes (i.e. social media, music, gaming) and the development of computer skills that are transferable to more “productive” computing tasks, such as research and learning new applications.

Sponsored in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the two-page brief summarizes some of the findings from the TASCHA report – The value of non-instrumental computer use: Skills acquisition, self-confidence, and community-based technology training. The study took place over a three-year period in a series of public Internet access “LAN houses” in Brazil. These privately owned businesses continue to thrive in the country, especially in lower-income communities and with users that are looking for faster connectivity options than are available at home.

A combination of interviews and computer-based exercises/testing with patrons provided the five-person study team with a large amount of qualitative data the produced a variety of findings, including:

  1. The ability to play games, socialize, meet new people and stay in touch with family was a driving force in people starting and continuing to use computing technology.
  2. The distinction of what constitutes “playful” and “productive” computer use is blurry at best.
  3. Computer users don’t quantify computing activities as “productive” or “playful” – often engaging in a mix of both during a single session.
  4. Computer skills developed during times of “play” are directly transferable to more productive tasks.

Based on these findings, the brief outlines a series of recommendations for publicly available Internet access spaces, like libraries, Internet cafes, coffee shops, and bookstores that include:

  • Recognizing the inherent value of play when it comes to the development of transferable computer skills and re-visiting/re-considering restrictive usage policies.
  • Recognize the social aspect of computing and revisiting space planning with an eye towards encouraging social interaction and collaboration.
  • Consider implementing learning strategies and computer skill development programs that provide assistance on a one-to-one basis, as opposed to group learning in a more formal classroom setting.

The report is a worthwhile read. It underscores the importance of play and raises interesting points about the intersection of productivity and play.

Kolko, B., Racadio, R., Deibel, K., Krause, K., & Prempeh, J. (2013). The value of non-instrumental computer use: Skills acquisition, self-confidence, and community-based technology training. Global Impact Study Research Report Series, Seattle: Technology & Social Change Group, University of Washington Information School.