Why Fun-Shaming Persists in Adult Learning

When I shared this post about using video in adult learning with a LinkedIn group of training specialists, I received a response that saddened me. Essentially, the trainer remarked how prospects scoffed at her use of fun in her learning design.

I sympathize.I’ve met plenty of prospects who want their learning, “straight-up” and concentrated in a day or two. It may be easier to purchase such training. However, these same businesses are in the category that asks, “Why should I spend money on training? It doesn’t work for us.”

I’ve met plenty of prospects who want their learning, “straight-up” and concentrated in a day or two. It may be easier to purchase such training. However, these same businesses are in the category that asks, “Why should I spend money on training? It doesn’t work for us.”

I’m taking a stand against fun-shaming in the world of learning and development. Not only is fun and play necessary for learning to occur, but it’s also necessary for overall success.When did we forget that adults need recess, too?

When did we forget that adults need recess, too?

Let’s be serious

We’re adults now with adult responsibilities and pressures. We worked hard to secure our place with academic credentials and business experience. It’s serious stuff. Incorporating a sense of play into learning design might appear — undignified.

Play in learning design

There are a number of definitions of play online, and they all have a few elements in common.

  1. It’s a process, not an outcome.
  2. Done for its own sake.
  3. It’s fun, engaging.

I’ll share examples of how to incorporate play into learning design later in this post. For now, I’d like to continue to examine the serious business of learning.

Edutainment is for Millennials

Video sharing, opinion polls, and like buttons. They’re all tools to engage Millennials. Have you asked yourself what they know that we don’t? Incorporating play into learning is not meant only to engage short attention spans. Even if it were, have you made a note of the number of priorities demanding our attention on a daily, even hourly, basis? If Millennials can speak out and demand what they know works for their learning, and we all benefit, that sounds like a win-win to me.

Fun can’t be effective

I’ve never fallen for this myth. Even as an educator of college-level business students, I knew if I was bored, they must be completely tuned out. I made learning fun for us all and still had the end goals of evaluating results.

Kirkpatrick’s Model of Learning Evaluation recognizes four levels of evaluation.

  1. Level 1 — Reaction: How likable, engaging, and useful is the program?
  2. Level 2 — Learning: What is the degree to which participants acquire intended knowledge, skills, and abilities?
  3. Level 3 — Behavior: How much did the learner change due to training and was the change relevant and sustainable.
  4. Level 4 — Results: How did the training impact key performance indicators of business success?

In general, I like this model. I’m a proponent of making sure training programs progress through all stages over the course of its design.

What I’ll have you note, is that we (learning designers and trainers) can’t force participants through the stages. They must WANT to learn. They must first like it and engage with it. Elements of edutainment help us through the first level and on to learning. There must be some fun to be effective.

Play is fun — and it’s more than fun.

Dr. Stuart Brown, an advocate for play and head of the National Institute for Play, wrote in his book titled, Play, “We don’t need to play every second of the day to enjoy play’s benefits. Brown calls play a catalyst. A little bit of play, he writes, can go a long way toward boosting our productivity and happiness.” (From PsychCentral.com article)

Play inspires us to be more inclusive, curious, productive, innovative, and fun to work with. Are any of these benefits you’d like to see in your employees?

In an interview with NPR, Dr. Brown says, “If we don’t play, there are serious consequences. ‘What you begin to see when there’s major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they’re not much fun to be around,’ he says. ‘You begin to see that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious.’”

All work and no play…, well, you know how that ends.

How to use elements of play in learning design.

I’ll share two ways I incorporate play into my teaching and training.

Playing with Legos in Learning Design

1) Breaking the ice.

Here’s a picture of my teaching Legos™. At the beginning of each quarter of my Introduction to Business course, I’d start out with an activity where 3–4 students get into a group, and I give them the following instructions.

Build a three-dimensional, irregular, object. It can be real or imagined. When time is up, you’ll be presenting your object to the class.

Introduction to Business is one of the first classes a college student takes in their program. The class is made up of business majors, and some non-business majors. Everyone is scared and silent. Then they touch the Legos™ and everything changes. Even the most introverted students can’t help themselves; they have to play.

At this point, there is no outcome expected, no test or quiz or interview. They just play. Before students present, I reveal the following:

The object you’ve created, whether real or imaginary, is something without which the students in class can’t be successful. Choose a presenter and help them prepare a 1–2 minute presentation to sell your object to the class.

The results of this exercise never cease to amaze me with creativity and energy. Never. Through play they learn to work together.

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Plato

2) “Quizzing” for self-awareness

I put “quizzing” in quotes because in my mLearning course on Fearless Follow-Up, early on in the course, I use PlayBuzz quizzes to assess and entertain. These quizzes don’t have grades, no winners or losers. Instead, I design them to help gain insight into their strengths or goals for the course. If you’d like to take a look, here’s a peek at the quiz, “What’s Your Follow-Up Personality?”

If you’re interested in taking the course, sign up for our “Learn * Do *Grow” monthly eNewsletter and you’ll be one of the first to hear about the next class start date.

As students progress through the course, they’re asked to record and share their observations and insights with the class. The learning continues.

The case for fun in learning is clear, so I’ll rally a cry to, “Stop Fun-Shaming in Training!”

Play is serious business.

Soma

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