Our Learning Revolution
Twenty One Toys is the product of a revolution. You could say this revolution has been happening since the 1800s, or you could say it’s early days still. You’d be right on both counts. Our revolution, the one we go to work for every day, is a learning revolution.
Our revolution demands answers: Where are creativity, play, teamwork, and empathy in our classrooms, our boardrooms or the public square? More importantly, how do we teach these critical skills?
Playing is how you made your first friends, confronted your first challenges, and learned from your first mistakes. It showed you the value of rules and the sting of injustice. It encouraged you to ask “what if…” and to imagine yourself in other people’s shoes.
We all know that play was a part of our early development and learning. Yet somehow, as we started school, play became the opposite of how we learned. It became the opposite of work. Play was relegated to recess and weekends, but a growing number of educators, workers and entrepreneurs are demanding that we bring play back.
Heroes of the Revolution
We thought the revolution started with our hero Sir Ken Robinson, and the growing movement within education, business and the not-for-profit sector to educate people on what Mariale Hardiman calls the key 21st-century skills: Creativity, Collaborative Learning, Innovation, and Problem Solving. But the more we learned, the more we realized that this revolution had more history and breadth than we imagined.
We began discovering new heroes: like Brene Brown and Carol Dweck, influential researchers and storytellers who are working to change the way we think and feel about empathy and failure. We fell in love with Friedrich Froebel, the 19th-century inventor of Kindergarten. He started his revolution with toys – or “gifts”, as he called them. Often considered the world’s first educational toys, it’s claimed that Froebel designed 20 toys that led to the creation of Kindergarten – influencing some of the greatest thinkers of our time.
His approach hinted at a question that is the cornerstone of our work: Why not use toys as tools for social change? If “schools kill creativity” as Sir Ken Robinson has stated, what if toys could bring it back? What if toys were the new textbooks? Because toys can teach what textbooks can’t: creativity, collaboration, and most importantly – empathy.
We like to think that we channel Froebel in our work by picking up where he left off. This starts by designing his 21st toy . . . for the 21st century, of course.
How do we prepare our schools & offices for the 21st century?
Toys and Games for Play-based Learning
Our learning revolution declares that toys are the new textbooks because play drives learning. Froebel designed his “gifts” to direct and focus our natural human curiosity so that learners would be playing with purpose and developing skills. We design toys and games for play-based learning, but the skills we’re teaching through play are unique to the 21st century.
Teaching 21st-Century Skills
Our current education system wasn’t designed for cultivating 21st-century skills. Devised during the first industrial revolution, schooling was meant to prepare students for life-long jobs in factories – designed for a world where information had to be memorized because it was very hard to access it otherwise.
“A child today can expect to change jobs at least seven times over the course of their lives – and five of those jobs don’t exist yet.”– Argentina Minister of Education, Esteban Bullrich
Call it the future of work or the new world of work, the sentiment is the same – how we work and the jobs available are changing. Right now, education systems around the world are tasked with preparing students for careers that don’t even exist yet.
Employers need workers skilled in creativity, critical thinking, and complex problem-solving in order to figure things out on-the-job. But when we teach students how to recall correct answers to pass standardized tests, we undervalue and discourage creative thinking and problem-solving. Information is more accessible than ever, but we are still developing students' ability to retain and repeat the same ideas and facts to get the highest grade and the correct answer. What a shock it is then, when students graduate into the workforce and find no answers at the back of the book.
Teaching Empathy & Learning from Failure
So, what do you teach when there is no single right answer? What should you learn when the correct answer keeps changing? The 21st century demands no distinction between students and workers – success in the new world of work requires embracing lifelong learning.
Empathy – that ability and willingness to consider someone else’s perspective – is key to unlocking innovation in business, and successful collaboration within and across different industries. Employees with empathy are able to better understand their customers’ needs, better connect with their clients, and work better together in teams.
Failure, and getting familiar with the discomfort of failing, is key to building skills like resilience and grit, and developing a growth mindset. It's more important than ever for people to be able to recover from setbacks, keep pushing forward, and to reframe the future as a challenge rather than a threat – even when the uncertainty of the new world of work is uncomfortable.
The Future of Work is Human
These “soft skills” that are transferrable between many different jobs across various industries are both the most sought after by employers and the most difficult to assess in an interview or resume. Employers are finding recent graduates underprepared for the workforce, and struggle to hire for critical abilities like communication, collaboration, resilience, and adaptability. It's no longer just about attracting top talent; the new world of work challenges employers to retain employees who are increasingly looking for work that is purpose-based and aligned with their personal values. In the future of work, the two-way street of empathy is critical to ensuring that people feel connected and valued by their employer.
Our revolution affirms that work and play are not opposites. When we value play in work, we’re able to build resilient, creative, collaborative and empathetic teams. We’re able to make our core values tangible so that we can better understand them. That’s why leaders are investing in playing with empathy because to keep up with the demands of the 21st-century workplace, play is vital.