The ‘Distributed Play-Doh’ Effect

I’ve been taking some time to look back to look forward. This is important to do from time to time. While watching the recording of the final Google Hangout held for the #MOOCMOOC from Hybrid Pedagogy, the idea of ‘distributed play-doh’ was tossed into the closing remarks. These disconnected concepts took shape in my reflective mind and something colourful, malleable and shared has emerged.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 8.24.55 AMPlay-doh is a smooth, pliable and non-sticky substance.  By itself, play-doh is inert. It sits on the table waiting for someone to create. When a creative mind engages with play-doh,  beautifully crafted and carefully shared images and 3-D objects are the result.  It will stick to other play-doh and blend into colourful amorphic blobs when combined.  Educational technology is similar to play-doh – it doesn’t do anything until a human hand can shape it into something worth sharing. Combining is essential, but once connected it’s hard to separate.

Distribution is a way to give something out to a group. It’s a process of arranging, connecting and sharing objects or events. The distributive property in mathematics shows how combining or recombining items in an equation can produce equivalent results. Distributed knowledge is a way of connecting ideas and concepts, redistributing them to create and recreate. Sometimes serendipity, or the play-doh effect, comes along to ‘awaken the wonder junkie’ found inside each of us.


Papert would revel in distributed play doh. His notion of educational technology as a creative tool to engage students in controlling their learning environments connects to my notion of how distributive play-doh could work.

  • Both are colourful and pliable where possibilities are endless.
  • They will stick together and can be hard to separate once connected.
  • There are multiple options for creation.
  • Imagination and wonder can fuel the creation process.
  • Both can recombine in unique ways with learning as the equivalent outcome.
  • Sharing your creations enhances and extends the possibilities.
  • New colours, or new contributors, can take the creative process in new directions.

So, in reflection, educational technology, and particularly MOOCMOOC experiences, are like distributive play-doh. So too are other explorations in digitally creative spaces. Blogs, tweets and social media creations are the play-doh tools in digital places. Distributing them across learning networks will result in recombinations that may (or often do not) result in equivalent learning but do result in “cognitive ecstasy”.  The potential emanates like the aroma of brand new play-doh. Similar to opening a new can of play-doh, there is joy to be found in creating and distributing something beautiful with digital media. As I write, these two separate, but now joined ideas, enhance my thinking.

First, an hour of play with play-doh or while creating and distributing digital media can tell a lot about a persons passions, interests and connections.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 8.54.56 AM

Second, students creating with digital media have endless possibilities and outcomes – just like with play-doh. They need time to explore and manipulate, combine and create.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 8.59.06 AM

So, play on with play-doh and educational technologies. Play on with #moocmooc and sharing digital content. Play on where cognitive ecstasy can result. Distribute and contribute to the learning endeavours for all. Curiosity, colour, and creativity will rule.

Of that, I think Papert would approve.


DreamTV. (Jan. 8, 2014). What is play-doh? Retrieved from

Shots of Awe. (Sept. 16, 2014). The ecstasy of curiosity . Retrieved from

Stommel, J. (Feb. 27, 2015).  MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy // Critical Digital Pedagogy Retrieved from

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