Mixing humor and entertainment has proven to be a successful strategy in many arenas. We need look no further than the lasting success of The Daily Show to see its viability; in fact, The Daily Show was just the first breakthrough of ‘infotainment’, leading to highly successful spinoffs (The Colbert Report) and others that were perhaps a little too niche to last (The Opposition with Jordan Klepper).
What, then, about the value of educational entertainment—or edutainment—outside of the realm of television? According to Rachel Lee, edutainment is “The New L&D Frontier.” Let’s look into how, and why, the approach has made the inroads it has in learning and development.
Lee sees edutainment as a crucial part of holding attention in remote L&D scenarios, but first, let’s be sure we understand her definition of the term. Speaking specifically to our focus (the L&D/training context of edutainment), she writes that
“it’s about developing content that learners enjoy enough to visit regularly and immerse themselves in the learning journey because that’s what it takes to learn effectively.”
Without saying so directly, the “attention-holding” element that Lee is referring to relates directly to the nature of remote work. Let’s be honest—when employees are working from home, they have a higher potential for distraction.
Get ahead of this with absorbing, entertaining learning content that keeps your learners too engaged to even need a distraction. After all, when was the last time you were, for example, thoroughly engrossed in a great show or film and felt the need to find something else to do? If you did feel that urge, I’d argue that you weren’t thoroughly engrossed in the first place. We stick with the things that entertain us, considerably more so than things that we simply know we are obligated to consume.
What kinds of L&D content can easily be considered edutainment? Those that rely on gamification and game-based learning, argues Dr. RK Prasad, qualify as some of the best. The distinction between game-based eLearning and gamification can be boiled down to content in which “the entire course is designed and operates like a game” (game-based eLearning) and applying game mechanics like points, scores, and rewards into a non-game context like training (gamification).
Of the two, gamification is the less expensive, more easily-deployed tool. Doing so typically has stages, which Dr. Prasad helpfully details in order: First, break the content into modules that serve as ‘levels’ within the course. Next, assign points or badges for each level, typically in order of increasing difficulty.
Third, give points to a learner each time they successfully finish a module (or level). And finally, consider a leaderboard that reflects the cumulative awards earned by learners, and their progress. Personalization can also be a fun element to include, with avatars that guide the learner through levels and transitions.
For those of us who haven’t experienced this type of training—be it in person, or remote—the appeal is almost immediately clear. Who wouldn’t want to design a little avatar and track their progress with a points-based game process, especially when the alternative has none of these interactive, personalized elements?
Donald Fomby describes the benefits of edutainment on a more scientific level, one that we at TruScribe and Squigl find immediately familiar—especially in his focus on dopamine. “…Having fun releases dopamine in the brain, which makes a person more receptive to the experience.”
In our content design guidelines that we call Scribology, we apply principles proven through neuroscience and brain research to content creation, and dopamine plays a significant role in these principles. We’ve learned that surprise, in particular, releases dopamine, and Fomby insightfully describes dopamine’s function.
While many associate dopamine as the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter, it actually functions as a driver of curiosity as well—driving engagement, or “receptivity to the experience.” This is the power of hand-drawn visuals in maintaining engagement, as people are entertained and kept curious by the new and developing drawings. That’s correct—your TruScribe videos and Squigl-designed videos are a perfect example of strong edutainment!
Finally, the ‘levels’ aspect of gamified learning can meet contemporary needs for micro-learning. Fomby relays that “According to research, learning is most effective in small, highly focused sessions lasting from 15 to 30 minutes.” Replace the word ‘sessions’ with ‘modules’ or ‘levels’ as described in Dr. Prasad’s discussion of gamification, and the power of edutainment is clear.
It can be a bit of a struggle to maintain focus and attention on L&D materials, and in the world of remote work, it can get even harder. Fight back with edutainment. There’s a reason it’s celebrated as the “new frontier” for learning and development—it’s fun, short, customizable and personable, and the science proves that it works. Give it a try—it’s your turn.
Do you use gamification, or other forms of edutainment, in your organization? What kinds of point systems or features have you included? Has it brought more engagement to training and learning sessions? How might you convince your peers to try a more entertaining approach to learning and development materials?
About the writer
Stephen R. Ware is a certified paralegal and a Producer. He serves as a blogger and copywriter for Squigl.