Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Parkin Space: Who Says Learning Should be Fun?

by Godfrey Parkin [my emphasis]

The constant admonition from instructional designers that e-learning has to be punctuated every couple of minutes with “interactivity” is one of the saddest mantras of our time. It’s like the American notion that food cannot be palatable unless you smother it with ketchup. If you are working with training that is bland and dry, by all means bring on the sauce. But would it not be better to make the training itself more engaging in the first place?

The distinction between engagement and interactivity is crucial, and it’s one that many instructional designers – and those who commission the development work – do not appear to understand. Engagement is intense mental absorption; interactivity is often just busyness or sugar-coating. It is vitally important that learners be engaged. Interactivity, entertainment, and fun can contribute to cognitive engagement.


Interactivity for interactivity sake is absolutely wrong. One of the important questions designers needs constantly asking is "why" when trying to any interactivity into a program. Why you want to add an activity here? Why you want to include this activity? Why not another approach like such as such...? Making the learner busy is NOT engaging.

Engagement, as Godfrey pointed out, is deeper than just being busy with the material. The challenge is, of course, how to create that engagement in a learning program. Many methods have been suggested, here are some. Please suggest more.:

  • Make the sharing of experience as part of the program. Based on adult learning theory, everyone has something to contribute especially in a on-the-job training situation. We know that people like to share stories.

  • Make the learning relevant to the immediate needs of the learners, help them make the connection and reward success.

  • Make it "hard fun". Shallow jokes are distractions. The fun should come from the joy of satisfaction, from overcoming hurdles, from achievement, from feeling good about oneself.

  • Small success gives us the motivation to continue to work and work harder, which leads to more success. The trick is to create small success to begin with and build on the successes.[source] e-learning has to be punctuated every couple of minutes with "success". This is one of the mantras of our time. However, do not use testing as a way of producing that sense of success! Success should come from inside, not from artificial tests. Think "Who wants to be a millionaire" or any video games where players are absorbed into the game for achieving higher levels or higher scores.

  • True interactivity. Give the learners real choices and enjoy the consequences of the choices. Allow genuine exchange among learners. Trigger positive competitions and positive supports.

  • Allow time to internalise the learning. Create success by applying previous learning.

  • Encourage team work. Most people enjoy team-sport more than solo-sport! Teams also help motivate each other.

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