The fun theory

How do you get people to choose the stairs over the escalator? Make it fun.

About Joanne


  1. Sure, this is why we try to bring in a fun “hook” at the beginning of an activity. But, eventually, we have to move beyond fun, to learning.

    Which can also be fun.

  2. Coming to a stairs near you 🙂

  3. I saw this too, and I thought good gawd, it’s going to be all over the internet and I’m going to have to watch it in a professional development meeting in which it’s used as an analogy for more edutainment in the classroom. But that won’t happen until at least next March – ProfDev folks are notoriously slow on the uptake for educational fads, Youtube videos, and research-driven strategies.

  4. Just happened to come across the following, by Steven Reiss at Ohio State University:

    “IM theorists arguably have exaggerated the
    motivational signi?cance of intellectual plea-
    sures. They have held that everybody is born
    with the potential to enjoy learning (e.g., Kohn,
    1993). When students do not enjoy learning, as
    in the example of high school underachievers,
    IM theorists blame ineffective teaching, boring
    curricula, and the widespread use of extrinsic
    incentives such as grades (Kohn, 1993). To
    motivate students in school, unitary IM theorists
    advise teachers to ?nd ways to make learning
    fun (Lepper & Cordova, 1992) and to tap into
    students’ natural curiosity.

    IM theorists have presented little scienti?c
    evidence to support the hypothesis that every-
    body is born with the potential to enjoy learn-
    ing. Anecdotal examples of adolescents and
    adults show that many people react to intellec-
    tual activities as if they were unpleasant. People
    often sustain thought on a problem for no more
    than brief periods of time; the overwhelming
    majority of adults do not read books; documen-
    taries are among the least popular forms of ?lm;
    and even many academics reduce intellectual
    activity soon after they earn a tenured teaching
    position. These examples are arguably signs
    that intellectual activity is naturally unpleasant
    under many circumstances or if engaged in for
    more than a few minutes at a time.

    IM theorists may have put forth a misleading,
    almost romanticized description of the inquiry
    process. The inquiry process is not always plea-
    surable and often involves signi?cant negative
    emotions. Many scientists have written about
    the agony of the creative inquiry process and the
    emotional ups and downs of research.”

    Find the rest starting on page 183 (5th page) here:

  5. I loved this video! I think there is a lot of potential for making learning fun. Why assign a worksheet on multiplication facts when kids can play a game that reinforces the same concepts?

    When I was a psych major in college I had a stats professor who felt that students learn best when experiencing an emotion – he chose fear, which doesn’t seem like the best choice. But why not excitement – joy? Thanks for sharing!

  6. Richard Nieporent says:

    Explain to me what is the purpose of trying to make people use the staircase instead of the escalator. Are they trying to discover the next Mozart, or is it supposed to get them all of their exercise for the day? By the way, they copied the idea for the piano from the movie Big.

  7. Don Bemont says:

    The usefulness of fun in the classroom depends at least partly on the age of the student. A lot of the things elementary students need to learn can be turned into games, and it often works well, in part because these younger students are less jaded about what constitutes fun.

    While high school material need not be uniformly deadly, much of the material makes poor fodder for high entertainment. More important, these students have set standards for entertainment based on movies, computer games, etc. expertly tailored to maximize fun. “Fun high school classes” tend to be third rate entertainment at best — not the best way to earn students’ respect.

    The most crucial point, though: the quest to be entertaining all too often leads high school teachers to alter WHAT they teach. It is one thing to try to make the lesson fun; it is quite a different matter to redefine the curriculum as things students find fun.

    In truth, this is a deep cultural issue which, according to the late NYU professor Neil Postman, had its roots in the switch of dominant mass media from print to screen. Consumption of print encouraged ordinary citizens on to value reflection and intellectual inquiry as a core values; consumption of television leads a population to value entertainment, above all else.

    No one wants the really important things taught this way: you don’t want your cancer doctor or your favorite team’s quarterback to have learned only the aspects of their professions that could be made fun. However, a vast portion of the population believes that they and theirs cannot possibly be expected to endure anything which is not amusing.

    Unfortunately, our students will be competing with students around the world who were not brought up in this disabling culture.

    Neil Postman wrote, perhaps 20 years ago, that this was the most salient issue facing education at the time. He struck me as correct at the time, and I see no sign that anything has changed.

  8. Oh, I think those competing nations are every bit as entertainment blinded as ours, though it hasn’t quite crept into the schools.

    I have nothing against making some lessons interesting — I get bored, too — but the kids do have expectations from elementary school that everything will be tailored to their tastes. Sometimes you just gotta take some notes, though.

  9. Sure, this is why we try to bring in a fun “hook” at the beginning of an activity.

    Incidentally, I think I read something by Engelmann once in which he said he avoided always having a fun “hook” at the beginning of an activity, as it taught kids that the fun bit was only ever at the start. I don’t think he had any objections to fun hooks per se, just he objected to the design of always putting them at the start, instead of sometimes at the start, sometimes at the end, sometimes five minutes in, sometimes at halfway, sometimes at 31% of the way, etc.

    Which I suppose is the same as Linda F’s point too, the fun’s nice but the learning is the important bit.

  10. Don Bemont says:

    “Oh, I think those competing nations are every bit as entertainment blinded as ours, though it hasn’t quite crept into the schools.”

    I probably overstated, but I suspect that you have too. Over the years, I have taught many foreign exchange students, and, with the possible exception of one from Brazil, all have been appalled by American norms.

    One way to see this phenomenon is to look at popular culture: Look at the things that were popular in the US in the 1800s, in foreign countries now, and in the US now. You will find a remarkable swing in the way sheer fun is mixed with underlying ideas and meaning.

    Dickens and Longfellow were wildly popular despite lengthy ruminations and philosophizing mixed into their narration. Within the past few years, the TV series Decalogue and the children’s fantasy series His Dark Materials enjoyed great popularity around the world, despite stories that included serious detours into the world of ideas. Although it is early to know how the internet will impact this, I can tell you from personal experience that Americans raised in the mainstream culture have had very little patience with such material for some time now.

    You can see similar values in our political realm, where entertainment values rule over matters of substance. Good looks and clever sound bites not only defeat reasoned argument every time, but only the most naive would ever dare hope for any other outcome. Look around the world, and you can see that this is hardly the international norm.

  11. Richard, it’s because The Powers that Be think that maybe there will be fewer obese people if people can just be persuaded to take the stairs. (I remain unconvinced as I always take the stairs and haven’t lost one pound as a result)

    They found that nannying at people to take the stairs didn’t work, so they found a way to at least make it fun.

    I’d much rather be “tricked” into doing something because it’s fun, than be nagged at to do it because it’s “good for me.”

    But yeah, I hope this doesn’t become the next tired trope for “You need to make your teaching be more like a video game!” or some foolishness.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: The fun theory: […]

  2. […] Read the original post: The fun theory « Joanne Jacobs […]