The FUNology of Engagement


FUN = enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure.

OLOGY = subject of study; a branch of knowledge.

FUNOLOGY = A study of (learning) enjoyment!

Author Joanne Oppenheim wrote “when fun goes out of play, most often so does the learning…” I wholeheartedly agree. There is a misconception that we are not serious about learning if we are having fun. On the contrary, we can be very serious about our profession, the art of our instruction, the well-being of our participants and even the importance of our subject matter. This doesn’t mean we have to take ourselves too seriously. It doesn’t preclude us from bringing levity to our delivery and doesn’t deny us the opportunity to shine a big bright light on our content. Fun is not the enemy. The way that we involve learners and engage their learning is what counts and fun can be an effective vehicle for creating the kind of atmosphere where students feel comfortable and learning can thrive.

Having fun does not diminish learning capacity or marginalise subject matter. In fact, it is likely to make it more memorable and help the content to stick, if it evokes wonder and excitement! We are seeing this with the rapid expansion of gamification within the learning and development sphere. It is more than just a catchy buzz term; it as an educational movement which is fast gaining traction in the mainstream, because it works.

With fun you stop the clock watching, the sneaky email checking and the classroom snoozing. Because, if we are doing it right, we will be constantly involving the audience and inviting contributions so they haven’t got time to be distracted by other things. Fun is therefore a conduit to learning, focus and retention.

Moreover, we can use fun as a distraction TO the learning rather than a distraction FROM the learning.

Here are five tips to engage any audience:

  • Use a pre-training exercise – the sets the scene for creativity and honours those who are there on time. This could be a word puzzle like hang man, number puzzle like sodoku, physical puzzle like Pictionary or a short video used to stimulate interest in the following content.
  • Get them connecting in pairs/small groups – there is safety in the smaller numbers and some participants will need to build confidence in smaller groups first, before sharing with the group at large.
  • Recognise their experience and use it! The best trainers harness the experience of the whole group, rather than just their own. An experience line-up can be a quick way to identify the experience in the room and then you can encourage table regroupings based on a more diverse mix of experience. For instance in the activity “experience pods”, you could ask the class to form new table groups with a minimum combined experience of 15 years per table.
  • Chunk into bite-sized pieces – This has been a tenant of effective education for many years. We don’t want to overwhelm the participants, so we break the content down into more digestible pieces. This, therefore provides a perfect opportunity to inject fun in the form of quizzes, polls, problem-solving tasks, team-building activities, gallery walks and poster development as a way to promote retention and reinforcement and checking for understanding as you go.
  • Involve the audience early and often – If they are not playing, they are straying, so seek opportunities to involve the group in the flow of content. This could be in the form of self-reflective tasks like action planning and consideration of things to “start, stop and continue”; small-group activities such as poster tasks and table discussions; and whole group involvement though debates and sit-stand polls.

We have more to distract us than at any other time in human history; text messages, instant messages, push notifications and any number of other alerts finding their way to our mobile devices and wearable technology. Now is not the time to be drilling down on which cannon of classics we should be the focus for our students. Rather, we should be concentrating on how we keep them engaged and consider how to leverage their existing devices and current preferences for consuming media. If we can create dynamic and meaningful learning opportunities which tap into fun and enjoyment we can truly teach anything.

Marc Ratcliffe