In conversations with my peers, I’ve noticed a number of people talking about needing to make employee training programs “fun.” In one case, I was even told, “We need to make sure the participants are having fun; that’s how you know they’re learning.”
Lets be clear: “Fun” isn’t a metric by which to measure learning. But it is something to consider. After all, if someone says something’s fun, chances are they’re enjoying it, and that’s certainly a good thing. But where’s the line between fun for fun’s sake, and fun that actually enhances learning?
Get the context
There’s lots of evidence out there suggesting that structured play can enhance learning, especially for young children. There’s also some (conflicting) evidence that using video game techniques — gamification — can enhance training. The problem is, very few of the people I’ve talked to about this have equated “fun” with “play.” They were looking at taking an otherwise boring training program, and just tying it up it in a “fun” wrapper.
Don’t confuse fun with funny
A common error I’ve seen facilitators make is confusion “making it fun” with “making them laugh.” There’s a difference between having fun and being funny. I’m not a particular fan of trainers who try to be funny. It comes off as staged and, quite often, awkward. More often than not, a trainer who’s trying to be funny has their focus reversed: They’re not thinking about what the audience really needs, which isn’t a funny trainer. We need to always remember what the participants need, not us.
Know your audience
Last week my daughter and I were talking about visiting an amusement park this summer. We talked about which rides we’ll hit while we’re there. My daughter asked my wife what rides she wanted to go on. “None,” she said. “You and your dad can go have fun.” My daughter was shocked. Of course I knew my wife doesn’t like thrill rides — but my daughter’s reaction reminded me about people’s assumptions of what is and isn’t fun. Just because you insert some sort of activity that you think will be fun doesn’t necessarily mean others will see it the same way.
Knowing your audience is key in choosing what sorts of activities to include in designing a program. We need to factor in the personalities and experiences of each particular audience when we design training programs. (Incidentally, this is even more relevant when you’re thinking about injecting a little humor into your routine: Know your audience! What you think is funny can very easily be insulting to the next person. So tread lightly.)
Don’t tell people they’re going to have fun
Please, just don’t do this. And if you already do, stop. Nothing makes an adult feel more like a child than having a trainer say, “OK, now we’re going to play a game!” or “OK, let’s jump into an activity.” You’re going to lose buy-in before you even set things up.
I’ve never considered making training “fun” to be a success factor for training. Certainly you don’t want learning initiatives to come off as boring, but when I think of the best formal training experiences I’ve had, many adjectives come to mind. Fun isn’t necessarily one of them. So don’t focus on fun. Focus on things like engagement, instead.
David Kelly is the director of training at Carver Federal Savings Bank and member of the ASTD National Advisors for Chapters. He is also the author of the blog Misadventures in Learning, where he discusses the future of the learning field and curates the backchannel of learning conferences.