How much of ‘Entertaining’ is advisable in Training?

How much of ‘Entertaining’ is advisable in Training?

How much of 'Entertaining' is advisable in Training?

We know the humor is an extremely powerful force, sometimes even life saving (Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins).

Children are natural learners. Children learn very fast and a lot before they turn five. They put together ideas, experiences and things creatively and freely. We also see that they laugh a lot. I read somewhere that a 5-year-old laughs over 400 times a day! But as we grow older, we become more constrained and goal oriented when we learn. And we laugh much less.

We tend to agree with Elliott Massie when he says that every great classroom-based class that he had attended contained humor and laughter. Off hand, we agree that positive humor will help establish a climate conducive to learning, reduce stress, aids retention of information, breaks down barriers between facilitators and learners, and foster cohesiveness.

But the question is how?

I know humor is like creativity. It is intuitive. It is very difficult to structure and tame it with a process. Some people are humorous, some are not. (I find Indians notorious for their lack of humor; I think we take ourselves too seriously L) Can we learn to be humorous and entertaining? Are there any tried and tested means and methods?

And how much?

Now coming to how much of entertaining or humor is good? When we see advertisements that make us laugh a lot and those we find very entertaining, we often remember the advertisement not the product they endorse. Similarly, I think too much of entertaining in training will actually impede learning. Participants will have a good time. Your reaction level feedback will be great but learners’ level may not be that great! Again are there any norms? Should we use humor only during ice-breaking or towards the end of the session?

What about humor in eLearning?

I think eLearning poses the greatest challenge. The only piece of humor I ever encountered in an eLearning course was the humorous feedback in an assessment. Any ideas and experiences?

Thank you for reading my blog and I welcome your comments and sharing of experiences.

RK Prasad


View E-book on E-learning to Achieve Business Goals

  • What about humor in eLearning?

    In Voltaire’s reputed last words, “dying is easy, comedy is hard”. One walks a tight rope introducing comedy into the classroom. Every time one tries to be funny one risks a) not being funny, b) offending someone, or c) creating the impression that he or she is frivolously wasting time that would be better spent engaged in instructional activity.

    That having been said, I think that comedic points that drive home an instructional point can be powerful presentation skills. The kind of comedy that makes people laugh, but also makes people think.

    I think classroom comedy can be an invaluable way to connect to the learners and provide a means of interaction, but it has to do more than that. Any comedy in the classroom should remind people of the instructional “why am I doing this?” or it risks being disregarded as “infortainment”

  • Jim Hewitt

    I believe that humour is an essential part of learning together in a group, especially with areas that can be rather “dry”. Having lectured in accounting for many years, I know that humour lightens the load and raises the spirits, as well as providing anchors that can be memorable and, therefore, more easily recalled in exam situations. It helps people work together and develops relationships.

    Having said that, you need a balance, and there is a limit to the number of laughs you can find in a set of year-end financial statements before the learning becomes trivialised. Learning should be serious, but I believe that a sprinkling of humour – visual or auditory – can be most effective, as you look to change the pace, the direction and the mood.

  • Jared

    I think it all depends on the topic being delivered. There are certain topics that lend themselves to a humorous delivery, and then there are other topics such as systems training where humor doesn’t really apply to the subject matter.

  • First I’d like to share a story in support of RK’s stereotype of Indian humor. My friend happens to be Indian and I was best man at his wedding. I didn’t prepare ahead of time, relying instead on my “wit” to get me through the best man toast. Since the majority of his family traveled from India to attend the ceremony I thought I had the perfect ice breaker to warm up the crowd. Here’s how I opened; “Hey thanks everybody, it’s good to be here this evening, say anybody here from out of town?” Instead of laughter, a room full of Seiks simply raised their hands.

    I echo the sentiments of both RK and Phil. There is no way I would have made it through five years of high school teaching and six years of technical training without relying on my sense of humor. There are actually two processes which should be followed in order to effectively apply humor during instruction. (1) Use humor to gain the attention of the audience. (2) Convert that attention into focus. Too often instructors say something funny and follow by going into a break. Big mistake. The moment after making people laugh is when you drill home vital instruction or open up class discussion.

  • I have reading up on simulations, games, etc. One point that seems relevant to me is the humor and fun (if done properly) helps to make people feel more “included” and lowers some of their defense mechanisms. It helps reduce the fear of being “wrong.”

    Learning can be too stressful. As an anxious person myself, I always appreciate a person who will take the time to set people at ease, make them feel safe, and at home. That said, I am also aware of how deifficult it is to create safe humor in a group of people, some of whom are just waiting for you to make a mistake! Good luck with this.

  • Jagan Mantha

    This is nice discussion. While I can relate to RK saying that humour and indians being opposite ends of spectrum, it amounts to stereotyping too.

    Humour is a definite armour for a trainer .. it is definitely better than murmur (english) .. mar mar(hindi). You get murmurs from audience if your class is rather dull and listless. Mar (in Hindi) is death .. could be death due to boredom 😉

  • Jagan Mantha

    Ian made an excellent point of constructively using humour to gain attention and converting that attention into focus. This is a great lesson for me personally, as in my serious effort to get humourous (while defying the indian gene, i could be compromising on the focus part.

  • Thanks, folks.
    Jagan – you have a point about stereotyping. You are right. It may well be my perception.

  • Tjemme

    I used to work in a training organisation. The trainers with the highest grades typically used a lot of humor.

    Why is this? I agree with much of the previous contributions. Allow me to add a few comments:
    (*) Learning is hard, tiring (the fun only comes from having learned). Being serious all the time probably means you are going too fast for the students.
    (*) Humor establishes a bond with the students. It is easier to learn from teachers whom you like. It addresses the human side of learning (asking questions becomes easier).
    (*) If you can present your subject in a humorous way, it shows your mastery of the subject, shows that you can ‘play’ with it.

    Allow me also a critical comment. When trainings are not assessed using measurable SMART content targets, it is easier to get away with humor as a replacement for proper teaching. Of course, SMART content targets aren’t everything. Bonding between students can be a major objective.

  • Ian’s point is well made. Humor can bring energy into the learning environment. I also agree that pointless humor can be distracting. It should be used to energize the students and the environment. People cannot learn if they are bored or half asleep.
    When we teach, we try different approaches to energize the participants. It can be humor or some other activity that brings the energy level up. We refer to these activities as ice breakers. While we use ice breakers at the start of a session to help participants connect with each other, we also use them throughout the day.
    Many times, we use them when we return from breaks to get the students attention and to help them refocus on the material at hand. Other times we use them to help with transitions from one main point to another. Mid afternoon, after lunch, we will use some activity to help them wake up and refocus. It is not always humor. We will also use some activity that gets them up form their seats and forces some physical movement. These types of activities are somewhat safer in that they do not rely on the instructor’s ability to deliver a punch line.
    I use humorous personal life stories to reinforce learning points. The students get to laugh at one of my many blunders that helps to drive home a point in our training. I am the subject of the “joke”, so no one gets offended. Stories that elicit an emotional response, be it laughter or sadness, help to bind your point into the students mind and makes it much harder to forget. Much like a musical concert, your instruction needs to have both high energetic notes and low powerful notes with many changes in tempo to make it memorable and captivating.
    We constantly experiment with different ideas and reflect afterwards on what worked well and what did not work. Like any endeavor, teaching requires continual improvement. We apply the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) system when trying to improve our classes and delivery, including the use of ice breakers.

  • “Entertaining” and “Engaging” are partners. Unless the audience is entertained to a degree they will not be engaged. The facilitator needs to be careful to find the proper blend – which is audience specific.

    Success depends on knowing your stuff – in your heart and mind. If you are held hostage to a PowerPoint or well memorized talk, you will have failure.

    Keep in tune with the cultures of your audience. They will be engaged based on humor targeted on the culture of their profession, culture of their job classification, generational culture, or union/non-union cultures.

    In the case of online training this becomes more difficult as many online programs as sold as canned and cannot be customized. In these cases a moderate amount of generic humor is appropriate. However if a client will be running a large number of participants through the online class it would make the program much more successful if it is customized.

  • Like I said over on LinkedIn —

    It really is more of a question of attention. Humor is just one form of sustaining attention. There are many others (drama, conflict, contrast, context, simple and immediate application) etc. I really like the findings Baim highlighted in “What the best college teachers do” — the best teachers (marketers, communicators, etc) are RELENTLESS in figuring out how to get through to poeple and they change their strategy when they are not connecting.

    So it is less about humor, and more about having an agile arsenal of ways to illustrate (shed light on) and connect the points with learners.

  • Entertainment is not necessarily humor. Think of it as anything that captivates the audience. Drama, video, anecdotes, etc.

  • madhu

    I think too much of entertaining in training will actually impede learning. Your reaction level feedback will be great but learners’ level may not be that great!

  • Humour and entertainment are vital ingredients of my courses, but there most be an important point to them. For example I do a lot of sales training, when I am illustrating how to ask for the business I act out a few scenarios of trying to get, but not quite asking for a date when I was a youth.
    I then point out things like I told the lady I was going to the cinema – but I never quite invited her.
    Doing this sort of thing reaally makes the points stick.