The Trouble with Edutainment

By |2021-04-26T07:29:26-07:00May 11th, 2021|

Sparkchasers Episode 35 | Show Notes

The Trouble with Edutainment

Schoolhouse Rock. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Sesame Street? What do these all have in common? They are a great example of what’s now coined Edutainment. And while this isn’t new, Edutainment has taken on a whole new evolution as access to learning has become more open in the past 3 decades. Everything from TED Talks to CreativeLive to rock concerts for teacher PD has emerged as a way to make learning more fun. But are we on a dangerous slope? In this episode, we’re diving into this controversial topic and getting curious about what edutainment means for students in 21st century classrooms.

What is Edutainment?

Let’s start with a base model for what qualifies as edutainment. According to researchers, “Edu-tainment”, is a hybrid genre that relies heavily on visual material, on narrative or game-like formats, and on more informal learning styles. The purpose of edutainment is to attract and hold the attention of the learners by engaging their emotions. It involves an interactive pedagogy and depends on an obsessive insistence that learning is inevitably “fun” (Buckingham and Scanlon, 2000).

This model really lives on a continuum. The term comes from combining Education and Entertainment. So anything that merges these two concepts could count. This could look like:

  • Transforming your classroom into a superhero lair to investigate character traits
  • Using the Harry Potter “House” system for classroom management or behavior plans
  • Bitmoji Classrooms
  • Teacher PD that focuses on how to make learning fun

Does that sound appealing to you? For most of us, it totally does! I mean, who wouldn’t want to have a school house system that feels like working and learning at Hogwarts? There are definitely some benefits to this approach.

Benefits of Edutainment

Some research suggests that the model of edutainment that combines teaching learning outcomes through game-based methods has a positive effect on a student’s perception of learning. Students enjoy learning this way and therefore think that they are learning more. English Language Learners in particular seem to find more success with this model of edutainment when focusing on vocabulary instruction (Fallata, 2013). 

Additionally, teachers report that students seem more engaged and excited to participate in learning when edutainment methods are used. This approach can make learning more memorable and help information “stick” – much like arts enhancement.

Similar to the arts integration continuum, edutainment models also offer a sliding scale of outcomes. In the end, it’s all about purpose and intention. Are you looking for students to have fun and memorize facts, or are you looking for them to become independent learners who have mastered an specific standard and can apply and create using their understanding?

Education + Entertainment = Less Actual Learning?

This is where the edutainment model gets sticky. What is actually being learned? Engagement and learning are not the same thing. Knowledge acquisition and knowledge construction live on opposite sides of the continuum. Retention of learning and being able to apply and create with that knowledge are different.

The part that is not talked about in this approach very often are meeting curricular standards. It’s one thing for students to have fun. But what are they learning? 

Another question that has arisen over the past decade is whether we are training our students to expect that learning needs to entertain them to be of any value. Sometimes, we learn material not because it’s fun but because it’s necessary. As researchers Bloom and Hanych (2002) observe, equating learning with fun suggests that if students are not enjoying themselves, they are not learning. In other words, learning becomes an obstacle that learners need to overcome. To Bloom and Hanych, “such an approach doesn’t promote learning; it trivializes the learning process.”

And what about the teachers? How many times have you looked at another teacher’s classroom that is using the edutainment model and thought either 

(a) how do they have time for that? or 

(b) I must be a lesser educator because I’m not doing that.

Are we sacrificing our time, resources, and curriculum outcomes for the sake of entertaining our students and making sure they have fun? 

It’s a method, not a curriculum.

Edutainment doesn’t have to be either/or. There’s a time and place for edutainment as a teaching method. Should students and teachers have joy in learning? Absolutely! Can we do that while still teaching curricular standards. Yes! Do we always need to entertain our students in the classroom? Definitely NOT.

As with most things, using the edutainment model is both an art and a science. Knowing when it’s appropriate and incorporating it into your teaching practice can be a great thing to explore. But if you don’t have the time or resources to make your classroom into a bakery for math class, it’s okay. It doesn’t make you less of an educator. Here’s what makes a difference in the end: knowing your students and helping them achieve their greatest potential. 

I’d love to hear from you about this topic. Do you use or advocate for this approach? Do you have concerns about this model? Send me a note through the Ask Me Anything button below- let’s explore and get curious. Because together, we can chase the spark of our ideas and make a brighter future for everyone. I’ll see you soon.

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