Fun – Fun – Fun – Until the Learning Research Data Takes it Away

In the immortal words of Popeye: “That’s all I can stands, ’cause I can’t stands no more.”

Which is one of my favorite sayings of the late Geary A. Rummler, one of my key (if not top) mentors from early in my career (1979) until his passing back in October 2009.

I have been reading online, in too many places, for months and months (if not years now) that Learning/ Training (etc.) should be Fun, Fun, Fun.

And yesterday I posted a Tweet and a Blog Posting about this myth. It drew a couple of comments – one in agreement and one in total disagreement.

Tapping Into a Particular Crowd for Wisdom
So, knowing that over the years, in fact decades ago, I heard at NSPI now ISPI (my Crowd for seeking Wisdom: evidence-based, research validated) in this profession of improving performance via many means – learning is but one – and the one that should typically be “of last resort” – unless it is for new hires and not a response to a performance issue) that designing for Fun was nonsense…to borrow a phrase from another ISPI mentor, Dr. Dale Brethower.

So I reached out to my ISPI colleagues yesterday and within hours I had 3 sets of research data (besides many other interesting comments/contributions to the dialogue) debunking the notion that learning should be designed for FUN (as opposed to designed for authentic requirements and to be engaging). Here are there responses “cut & pasted” as is (with one name x’d out)…

From Richard E. Clark, PhD:
My answer is Yes there is research that learning does not have to be fun (and that when it is fun, or perceived to be, people may not learn as much).

I conducted and published one of those research reviews many years ago (and have been updating it recently) and found a lot of evidence that in most cases, people enjoy training from which they learn the least. It is also the case that on reaction forms, people’s reactions to training tends to be based on how much they enjoyed the experience and not how much they learned.

Clark, R. E. (1982) Antagonism Between Achievement and Enjoyment in ATI Studies Educational Psychologist, 17(2).

Gavriel Salomon published a number of studies where people who expected instruction to be fun invested less effort than when they expected it to be challenging and difficult. His work has been replicated many times.

Salomon, G. (1984) Television is “easy” and print is “tough”: The differential investment of mental effort in learning as a function of perceptions and attributions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 774-786.

This is not a popular point of view and yet it is clear that the most important learning is not always (or perhaps even usually) fun.


From Darlene Van Tiem, PhD – about ISPIer Roger Chevalier:
This is an interesting question. It seems to me that Roger Chevalier did a study at Century 21 of the courses matching results in sales to course instructors. If I remember correctly, he found that one of the least liked instructors was the most effective. Century 21 folks in this particular courses worked in the evening applying what they learned during the day. They even ended up with actual appointments by the time the class was over. This may not directly apply to concepts of fun, but Roger could provide further information.

Best, Darlene

From Roger Chevalier – confirming Darlene’s comments…
Darlene has the story right. When I took over as a vice president for
Century 21 there were three instructors who were identified as poor
performers based on their Level 1 evaluations. When I compared course
graduate’s performance in terms of listing, sales, and commissions (Level
4), one of the three “low performers” had the most productive graduates of
the 100 instructors.

When I observed this instructor teaching the course, I found that he was
“keeping them after school” to practice what they learned that day. For
example, when he taught making cold calls, he had each make 30 cold calls
that evening while he observed and provided feedback. Some of the students
made appointments for listing presentations during these evening training
sessions. Rather than fire the instructor, I had him teach the others what
he was doing to be more productive. He would never be the most popular
instructor but his graduates remained the most productive.

Take a look at the bottom paragraph on Page 4 in the attached Performance
Improvement article. (At: – free for ISPI members).

Richard Clark also has some examples of the inverse relationship between
instructor popularity and applying what they learned.

From Richard Pearlstein, PhD:
Thanks for a great question, Guy. I agree with Margo’s comment that relevance is the priority. I’ve always found when people take training that is highly relevant to their job–as in a good simulation of elements of what they will actually do on the job–they find the training engages them. This is not to say that they necessarily find the training fun.

More than 10 years ago, I asked XXXXX, if there was research that supported games as an effective training medium. He answered that the research was mixed, but that, if anything, there might be a very slight negative correlation. So I followed up by asking him why he was so devoted to games. He replied, “Because they’re fun.”

Anyway, I’m glad Jim and Roger are having fun with this.


Dick Clark Responds

Your correlational check on Level 1 was one more bit of evidence for the counterintuitive fact that people are poor judges of what they’ve learned but good judges when asked how adequately they can perform a task that they’ve performed in the past (except for tasks they’ve performed in training).


Fun is Subjective
I agree that fun is subjective – to each their own. Thinking back 37 years, in a US Navy boot camp in San Diego, we – the 75 members of my “company” – occasionally found laughs (fun?) in between the daily GRIND for 16 weeks (and on the grinder for you non-land lubbers who know what that’s all about) of our learning/ training in preparation to go to war – or to support the war. Sometimes you just had to laugh instead of cry. Sometimes you made fun – because you just had to. But it wasn’t fun at all. Not “by design” anyway.

But – Designing Instruction for Fun?
I don’t think so – except where the content and the performance context make it appropriate. If you make it relevant and engaging – some might find it fun – again, to each their own. But that shouldn’t be a criterion for evaluating an instructional design.

Let the Learners decide what is fun and what is not. But that shouldn’t be an objective – unless, of course, the context suggests that it should be – for example: for marketing folks who need to learn how to run fun promotional events.

Go ahead and quote. I’ll try to find PDF copies of the articles I cited.

So – I will hopefully soon – let you know where you can access those articles.

What’s All the Fuss About?
I think it goes straight to “good stewardship” with some one’s money, some one’s equity – or “cash being converted into content” – and whether or not that’s got a promise of enough return for those investments.

You want to sit at “the table” and be taken seriously?

The start practicing evidence-based practices – or at least avoiding those that have been disproven. And don’t over-react to those Level 1 evaluation results. Dig a little deeper and validate your assumptions/ thoughts.

That’s all.

Oh no – one more thing – have some fun today!

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2 comments on “Fun – Fun – Fun – Until the Learning Research Data Takes it Away

  1. Pingback: T&D: Fun Fun Fun – Until Daddy Takes the T-Bird Away | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

  2. Pingback: If You Are More Relaxed – You Remember More? | EPPIC – Pursuing Performance

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