The importance of play in learning to love Trello

In this post Steve, one of our developers, discusses the unlikely chaos that came from running a learning hour about Trello (a project management tool).

In this post Steve, one of our developers, discusses the unlikely chaos that came from running a learning hour about Trello (a project management tool).

When you’re growing quickly as a company, with lots of new people joining and new things happening all the time, not everyone has a chance to get properly to grips with all the tools being used day to day. FutureLearn is no exception to this, but as a company promoting constant learning (the clue’s in the name) – we know we have to be learners too. That’s why I decided to run a learning hour to help us all get better acquainted with Trello, a project management tool.

Using Trello at FutureLearn

I had high aspirations for my learning hour, but apparently my idea of a good time is slightly different to my team’s on a Wednesday afternoon after a busy day at work. A lot of people had a rough idea of how Trello worked…so did we really need to talk about it more?
I have this vision that Trello is the best tool for collaboration, and the more I use it at FutureLearn the more I understand this to be true. But I began to notice many of my team were apprehensive about Trello. The phrase ‘If you make a board, they will come…’ definitely wasn’t a thing. People had started many boards that nobody had taken the bait and added to.

I wanted to change this, and I realised how after I taught a friend how to add labels to cards just by pressing a number on the keyboard. It was fast and easy, but also a little bit fun.

Shortcuts are your friend

The key to loving Trello is keyboard shortcuts. So the goal of my learning hour was to get the team using Trello, without using buttons. They had to use the shortcuts.

I had a board setup with instructions- it was going to be groundbreaking! My fellow FutureLearners would create a board that would make an impact on the world, enable more more social learning for anyone, anywhere. Or maybe they would transform the way their team worked together, or simply organise themselves better with a board.

But what happened? Chaos. They immediately vandalised my mission board collectively, attached photos of puppies and unicorns to everything, gave bizarre labels to cards, engaged in a new sport I can only describe as ‘card wars’ and our marketing manager set the board background to a photo of herself (which was soon replaced by various other backgrounds).

Learning through play isn’t just for kids

But in fact – all of that was ok. The moment I lost control as a teacher was the moment I had succeeded as a teacher – this board had sprung to life with busy collaboration.

My years teaching autistic children how to communicate with others has taught me that the best way to learn is through play. Learning isn’t about absorbing information thrown at you, it’s about making sense of the world around you by making memories. And the best way to make memories is to do memorable things. In the learning hour the team had freedom to play, and the fun they had reinforced their memories of keyboard shortcuts.


I set my priority from the beginning: whatever you do with Trello, use the shortcuts. Not only did everyone learn the button to find the shortcuts so they could teach themselves, they learned most of the shortcuts. They might not have made a board that changed the world, but hey – there’s still time.

Curious about life at FutureLearn? Find out more about how we work.

Category Making FutureLearn

Comments (3)

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  • Mehar

    Nice Sharing.

  • Erica Moss

    Hi, Steve! Erica with Trello here. 🙂 We just wanted to thank you so much for taking the time to share this story — we often get asked about the “right way” to use Trello & the answer is there isn’t one. We learn from awesome folks like you every single day!

    • Steve Brewer

      Hey Erica! Thanks for reading ?