16 July 2012

In praise of "Edutainment"

The portumantu of Education and Entertainment, the term “edutainment” is a derogatory term that implies “kids these days can’t do hard work, they don’t want to learn, they want to be entertained”.  It’s a loaded word, and it’s one sided. I believe that it’s a term bourn of fear of change.  Complex ideas need not be locked away in difficult presentation.

For too long, teachers have been able to make learning unnecessary difficult.  This is based on the false logic that “If it’s difficult, then it must be intellectual”.  This is based on the second fallacy that it’s the teacher’s key role to “grade and rank individuals” (rather than to help students learn useful things). Students are sorted in to certified groups of those that get it and those who do not. Those that do not have the patience are squashed out. The classroom becomes a theatre of power and cohesion. 

How do teachers get away with this?

We are taught to believe presentation skills are not seen as important as his message; to value the content and not the wrappings. Probably wise, but we all yawn in boring lectures.   The contents-at-all-costs idea also ignores the impact you have on the audience (or the lack there of).  If we do not forgive poor spelling in journal articles because it’s distracting, then why should me forgive poor presentation skills that diminish the audiences’ interest.

For too long have academics have gotten away with bland delivery. Like any monopoly that can abuse it's power, academics have been able to FORCE students to sit through boring lectures, read dense material and punish the weak, because, well, they are weak. 

Not over simplification

 “Everything should be made as simple as possible,
 but no simpler.” 
- Attributed to Einstein. 

This is saying that we ought make knowledge accessible, but simultaneously warns that oversimplification can lead to false belief.  Education is there to challenge and stretch the student, and there is a lot of well presented entertainment that does this also.

Of course, the really powerful knowledge is not found in a 2 minute Google search, or short YouTube video clips.  So there is still a role for getting students to hunt for powerful knowledge in difficult text.  But the instruction & guidance preparing students to undertake difficult (assessment) tasks must be made accessible, even if the task itself is not.

Entertainment is there to engage, but does not necessarily come with a learning message.  Advertising tries to engage you, and has a definite self interested learning outcome it wishes to achieve.  If we didn’t think of edutainment in such a negative light, we might be able to learn the “tricks” of engagement from the entertainment industry still ensure our message is not diminished.  This ought lead to better learning outcomes as without engagement, teaching is a waste of time.  

Good teaching ought combine the simple joy of discovery, with the polish of proper presentation, and this enhances learning and critical thought, not takes away from it. I think we can find opportunities in insults.  

I believe that when you next hear the derogatory term “edutainment”, you ought take it as a challenge!