Sunday, February 21, 2016

It all begins with fun ....

Can learning always be fun?  That probably depends somewhat on your definition of fun. defines fun (n) as

  1. something that provides mirth or amusement
  2. enjoyment or playfulness

While classes definitely will have moments of amusement, I am most interested in the second definition. I would argue that the most engaged learning will occur when there is a sense of enjoyment, and some of the time playfulness.

Think of a toddler. The rate of learning is incredible at this age, but it is not in some serious quiet directed way. Rather the toddler learns while he or she is being playful, having great fun, exploring in a largely unstructured way. There is definitely enjoyment, playfulness and amusement.

While the same degree of lack of structure is not possible at all education levels, I would argue that we could learn much from how young children learn. In all subjects there is good evidence that successful learning is active learning. Think of when you were most actively engaged, most attuned to learning something new. I bet you also later described the process as something you enjoyed.

"But wait, my discipline needs hard work. It's not all fun!" you protest.  Think about what you do in hobbies or interests.  Whether an athlete or a wood worker, a writer or a dancer, I am sure you would agree that you enjoy your time in the pursuit. That is true despite it requiring hard work and repetition, perhaps even physical pain or exhaustion.

In fact the repetition and dedication required is easier to muster if there is a sense of fun, enjoyment and indeed playfulness in the activity. As the folks at Growth Engineering have written in their post Why Fun in Learning is Important
"Learning is not a one-off event. It requires repetition and dedication. Making the experience fun helps to keep learners curious and encourages repeat visits."
They go on to make the case for gamification of learning as one way to achieve this (more on this topic in a future post).

Sean Slade and Valerie Strauss in a column on "Why fun is important in learning" cite some of the research in the area, particularly that from the field of neuroscience. They summarize:
"Brain research suggests that fun is not just beneficial to learning but, by many reports, required for authentic learning and long-term memory."
C.M. Rubin interviews Finnish educator and researcher Krista Kiuru on the topic of Fun and Learning. She stresses that fun experiences are more apt to enhance creativity in the learner.
"Yet fun and joy can inspire learners to explore the learning materials. In addition, playfulness can improve learners' imagination and creativity, and encourage practicing different skills."
I think we need to do more to celebrate the fun of teaching and learning. Let's share experiences when our learning,  or our contributions to learning by others, is fun.  On Twitter and Facebook use #FOTL for sharing and searching. Let's each year have a special day to celebrate Fun in Teaching and Learning. Most importantly, every day let's each ask ourselves "How can I structure this to be more engaging and fun?"

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