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Does ‘fun’ increase learning?


I frequently read the question "How do I inject more fun into my xyz training?"

What underlies this question? Is it a 'feeling' on the part of the trainer that all training has to be 'fun' in order to increase learning? I wont get enough 'buy' in unless its fun? They wont like me unless its fun?
I'm stuck for ideas and feel 'fun' must be the missing factor?

Not all delegates respond well to 'fun', 'zany', 'creative', 'interactive' and 'participatory' and whilst we appreciate the need for participation where is the line drawn?

Is it just our insecurities? Is 'fun' necessary or is it something more than that that drives this desire?

Enough said... see you at playtime.

The again perhaps thats it, fun equals play and we'd all like to revist our childhood?
Mark Starling

13 Responses

  1. Fun by another name
    I have always read the word ‘fun’ as being short for ‘ enjoyable student experience’ rather than any riotous playing around. In the subject areas we train in some of the subject matter is dry and we are constantly innovating to improve the student’s learning experience and that includes our tutor’s behaviour.

    We update all courses every 3 months on our legal division, management about 4-6 and circulate the tutors so they do not get ‘groundhog day’ syndrome, all of this could be described as ‘fun’.

    Buy in comes with relevance to job role being clear as well as training to a syllabus or plan. Interactive training means different things and we find that most of our students prefer group work and presentation to being talked at from the front by the tutor. In that way it is interactive, we also use the terms for our CBT programmes and tools for support post seminar. Some students like to soak up the learning others are more
    ‘ hands on’ part of the tutor role is to ensure all are catered for in the sessions of delivery and that means changing the pace and delivery throughout the day.

    I dont know about you Mark but I have had a lot more fun as an adult then I ever did as a child!

    TBD Global Ltd
    0870 241 3998

  2. Its the way that you do it !
    Just think, why do children absorb so much knowledge about life from play, why do people learn all the words of the top twenty hits much quicker than they learn the Unix directories you are giving them. Its because the first 2 are ‘fun’ and the other is boring. Interest aids absorption tremendously. Changing the way subjects are presented, and making sure that you are really enthusiastic, comitted and knowledgable about you subject can make things much more interesting for delegates, and this is what they perceive as ‘fun’. What it really means is that the subject has been presented in an interesting way, suitable for their own level and they have found that they can handle the subject matter much more easily than they thought they would. If the delegates are struggling to cope with a course it soon stops being ‘fun’. It is also blatantly obvious if the presentation is not ‘fun’ for the presenter and this rubs off on the delegates and again hinders the learning process. If a trainer no longer has enough interest or ‘joy’ in delivering training, they should give it up! I have attended too many sessions, where the trainer was just ‘going through the motions’ and it does not lean towards a good learning experience. Whenever I look for new trainers I always tend to look for the extra ‘Pzazz’ that will allow the trainer to deliver ‘fun’ training that will allow people to learn more easily

  3. Fun, with a purpose
    When considering what to include in training programmes and sessions,the question is generally about how to maximise learning. A number of learning theories (e.g., learning styles, NLP, accelerated learning, child development) make two points: 1.)learning can be increased by varying the types of activities to take account of different people’s preferred learning styles (e.g., pragmatist, activist, theorist or reflector) and 2.)as different people preferred senses for the intake of information (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic), bringing in activities that engage several senses maximises the retention of information and individual creativity. In addition, child development research (some of which applies to adult learning as well) has found out that situation that combines a reasonable level of safety with a certain amount of unpredictability leads to an alert mental state which is ideal for learning.

    Including fun activities can therefore serve a useful purpose as well as being enjoyable in themselves. Usually, fun activities also lead to increased communication and the breaking down of barriers between course participants, as well.

    I recently used quite a few fun activities to lubricate the otherwise dry and jargon-filled training for SVQ assessors. Presenting material of this kind in the traditional way (even with whiz-bang graphics, PowerPoint, etc.) can lead to people becoming overwhelmed, turning off, falling asleep and generally learning, and owning, very little of the information. Some of the techniques I used were: getting small groups of participants to think about how to support candidates with different strengths and weaknesses, using Winnie the Pooh characters (actually using stuffed toys for them to talk to, pulling one out of the bag); a “pub quiz” – style review session (they got very competetive on this one); “jargon bingo”, with chocolate prizes; dividing people into groups using Winnie the Pooh cards or different coloured sweeties; throwing a ball to someone else in the circle as they shouted out a type of evidence (as a review exercise); an ice breaker getting them to walk around and pick up postcards to help them share how they felt arriving on the course and where they would like to be at the end of it; a physical exercise after lunch on the first day, to avoid them sinking into the “gravyard slot”, etc. Not only did everyone seem to enjoy the course and get involved, the material seemed less dry and participants seemed to understand more or what was being taught than previously (I don’t know about retention yet). Having used games and toys in other types of training as well (I also teach a complementary therapy in my spare time), I am sold on this type of technique – and it’s more fun for the trainer, too!

  4. Fun Learning
    As was mentioned previously, a fun training environment does stimulate some participants. Here are a couple of other theories to consider:

    There is what I like to call the ‘Americanisation of learning’ where everything must be exciting and interesting and bright and fun all of the time! As a former teacher, five year olds used to come to class with this expectation after the first five years of American television, Sesame Street, Disney movies and where everyone is laughing and having a great time while learning something new.

    It is difficult to present new concepts, five days a week to any age group, if all of your topics are dry, dull and boring and presented without passion.

    We sometimes expect the same things as adults when we ‘step outside’ our workplace. Most people are used to a lot of routine in their workplace and unless you can break that routine, you will struggle to change their thinking or their work practices. Most trainers utilise all of the five senses in their sessions to cater for different learning styles and so you need to cater for different motivation levels.

    Some trainees do not need motivating but the majority do need it. When some people attend training sessions there is sometimes an assumption that they will be entertained, if they are going to learn something new.

    We do tend to listen more to a ‘fun’ organised trainer who entertains us and not to trainers who are unenthusiastic.

  5. A Little Fun Helps
    A lot of learning takes place in simulated situations, so games – and the fun we get from playing them – are very much part of learning. We understand quite a bit about what makes games ‘fun’ – as well as effective learning vehicles – by now, and we can use this knowledge to design learning experiences that enhance our knowledge and skills. See:

  6. Make it enjoyable & Challenging
    Hi Mark,

    I agree with all your other respondents – if it’s enjoyable,applicable/appropriate and CHALLENGING, people will learn anything!

    I think that 1 of our “problems” is that we learned in a dull manner (50s & 60s school) & now when we have to put a training (oops, sorry LEARNING) aactivity together, we fall back on what is “recorded” in our subconscious (look at Transactional Analysis for a background explanation – “I’m OK, You’re OK” by T. A. Harris is a good starter).

    With experience, we learn to challenge our long-held beliefs & move into other ways of doing things — I think one of the biggest “Yahoooo” experiences for me was being involved in Graphic Facilitation & seeing that I could throw away overheads & chalkboards etc.

    Approach your planning from the RECEIVER’s viewpoint & you’ll see a big difference!

    Call or email me directly if you’d like to explore further!


  7. an experience that always causes me to think
    I was a delegate on a training event many years ago and the trainer asked us to play an old parlour game (find your partner by masking the appropriate anumal noise) as an icebreaker. One delegate questioned the point of the exercise. The trainer replied “It is a bit of fun!”
    Fixing him with an icy stare the delage asked the question “Fun for WHOM?”
    and sat down in silence.
    What is fun for one person may be painfully embarrasing for another.

  8. Of course it does!!
    Memory of an event is generally increased if it is associated with an emotion. When people have fun, they are usually ‘happy’ therefor it is more likely they will remember and learn from the event.

    Course evaluations are usually much more positive when people have been able to have a bit of a laugh. I have found that delegates will also fill in the ‘comments boxes’ rather than just circle the ‘strongly agree to strongly disagree’ scale when they have had some fun on a course.

  9. What’s the downside of fun?
    Dear everyone,

    Sincerely, thank you very much indeed for that. Some very interesting and well justified points.
    I agree with Margaret’s point that memory is emotionally related (and often stored in the muscles – but I digress), this works both ways, our memory of sad or negative events is also strong as demonstrated by Russell and our ability to recall and replay wakes and deaths.
    I’m now curious to follow Russell’s point which I feel is a good learning point of what happens when it goes wrong, there may be much more valuable mileage in examining the negative side for prevention’s sake. In Russell’s instance I surmise that the trainer had not adapted his ice-breaker for his specific audience and furthermore did not explain its inclusion sufficiently.

    Does anyone else have any other “where fun went wrong” learning points?
    Thanks for your contributions to this thread, I hope you agree its an interesting (if broad) discussion.

  10. Fun vs enthusiasm?
    I too would like to pick up on Russell’s point. I have been to many training sessions where we have had fun “for the sake of it” and although it got everybody laughing and in a good mood it was largely irrelevant to the subject matter being taught. I work in a media sales environment where people are under a great deal of pressure to hit targets and the last thing I want to do is detain them in the classroom any longer than necessary by holding them up with fluffy stuff when they could be out getting results! That is not to say I run a boot camp though. I think as long as the “fun” activities are completely relevant to the job (we are there, ultimately, to help them do their jobs better after all) and result in increased enthusiasm for their work, rather than just having a “fun” learning experience, that is fine. As trainers, the bottom line is to make money/save money for the company we work for. For example, when training on competitive media, I split the group into 2 teams, one team is allocated a competitive publication to sell against the other team which sells our own. This results in a very passionate (and often fiery!) debate which results in belief in the product and real enthusiasm for the job without resorting to what I feel are gimmicks. I feel that there’s a real art to getting this level of enthusiasm from the delegates and it should genuinely come from them rather than us jollying them along and cajoling them into learning.

    Shall I duck now??!

  11. Agreed!
    I agree with Janet on this one, we are there to ensure that skills are increased as a result of the training.

    That is there in all the work we are asked to do the ROI is paramount in all our contracts. We raise the ‘buy in’ by making sure the relevance to the job role is fully understood and that us being there to train is not only to make the business more profitable it is to ensure the attendees’ jobs become easier through applying knowledge and skills gained.
    Working on the premise that when people know better they do better we constantly seek routes to better the learning experience of our delegates. I cringed to see the animal noises tale as this for some groups could be a real laugh to start the day for others it would be a walk out job.

    Personally I also try to make the training we do business related and encourage discussion and trying out of the new skills in a safe environment. I am lucky in that I see most of my students for many sessions and a trust relationship is built up in a way that a single session would not do.

    The sorts of comments we get are always around the ‘really got me thinking’ and ‘I am starting to enjoy this!’ type of thing. Bearing in mind that I have spent the last three weeks teaching Aylum Seekers, mental health and criminal law topics fun is not really an expectation of the delegates but interest is high on the agenda.

    I would be very keen to hear of the subject areas of training that yield the most ‘fun’ and whether any of the ‘fun’ elements are transportable into other disciplines.

    TBD Global Ltd

    Imagine it –

    One training Romps through your mind like a Carnival procession, another one is more like a funeral cortege.

    Which one are you more likely to Remember?

    Learning is about creating physical pathways and associations in the brain. ANY emotion, but especially POSITIVE emotions, strengthen those pathways.

    So, you want to improve learning, you involve some marked, positive emotional experiences – and you lay down stronger memory traces.

    It doesn’t HAVE to be “fun” (as in “Ha Ha!, What a jolly jape”) so much as “enjoyable” – for the trainees, that is. Excitement, discreet humour, wonder, sensual pleasure, etc. – they can all make a constructive contribution.


  13. Shiny Happy People
    Dear Mark,

    Wow – you certainly have tapped into something here looking at all the feedback!

    I do sincerely believe that training, be it soft skills (don’t all shout at me for using this phrase!) or IT, should be fun. However, the fun element does not need to be injected at certain times of the course – a general, overall feeling of enjoyment can be achieved by creating the right atmosphere, the trainer being attentive and generally doing their job properly.
    I have experiences of great courses which did not involve numerous games, quizzes etc… as we all came together and made sure that we were going to have ‘fun’ throughout the course.
    I have also experienced miserable, boring courses which was mainly due to the trainer being miserable and boring herself!
    From a trainer’s perspective, yes there is a need to have ‘fun’ moments, running energizers etc.. but having a happy, enthusiastic disposition and showing a genuine passion for your subject (yes, even software trainers can be passionate!) will also make for an open and fun course.

    Well, that’s the mindset that I get myself into before I start training. Don’t forget – we are the best actors.



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