Activity is not necessarily learning. Learning, like any project, needs purpose.
Have you any unfinished projects around the house? What got in the way? Was it a lack of time, losing interest, hitting a skill block or a lack of resources or just losing sight of why the project was really important in the first place?
At the core of each is the purpose of the lesson. There has to be purpose or what is the point? At the lower end of purpose can be familiarisation with some new equipment, finding out some of the things that can be accomplished. This low level can be seen as play, but it is play with a purpose. The adult analogy would be buying a new piece of ICT kit and spending time linking what is already known with the capacities of the new equipment.
A discussion with an inspector in the early days of my career has resonated throughout. The essence was that play for the sake of play can be a very important part of learning, but this can often become incidental. If there is a purpose, then there can be upfront challenge, or the teacher/adult can intervene to ask questions that guide the child to think more deeply about the task that they are undertaking, scaffolded and aimed specifically at the individual needs of the child, depending on the responses.
Young children naturally play and explore, so in an early years classroom it is possible to set up activities which catch the imagination. Seeing the direction of learning, the intervention of the adult can ensure progress and deeper engagement, leading to enhanced learning. Older learners have the same capacities, but might need greater teacher input to engage with the learning. They are perhaps sufficiently experienced in self-generated activity outside the school environment that they need to be shown the value of the learning. They need, in Ian Gilbert’s words, to be able to see WIIFM (what’s in it for me?)