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By Lizzie Short
Editor, MindEdge Learning
Decades of research has shown that humor can be an effective educational tool.
Properly applied, the light touch can improve learning outcomes, facilitate community, reduce student anxiety, and make learning more enjoyable. But humor has an ineffable quality to it, and translating a humorous, educational joke to an online setting doesn’t always work.
With more students than ever learning remotely, educators, administrators, and instructional designers are exploring ways to engage online learners by bringing an element of fun to the virtual classroom. When considering using humor in an online course, here are some key tips to keep in mind:
Know your audience.
Spend some time thinking about and researching your audience. Are they industry professionals or college freshmen? What are people looking for when they take your class? What do they find funny? People from different cultural backgrounds will have different ideas about what’s humorous—and what isn’t. The better you tailor your course to suit your audience, the more likely your humor will connect with students and support their learning.
Humor should serve the subject matter.
It’s important to remember that humor should serve the material, not the other way around. The goal isn’t to produce hilarious punchlines, but rather to use humor to help students understand key concepts and remember them later. Students don’t come to the classroom expecting hilarity, so don’t feel like you need to be Robin Williams or Dave Chappelle. Remember, even small instances of humor, such as puns and wordplay, can help lighten the mood and keep learners engaged. Visual humor can be especially effective online; comics, memes, and cartoons provide easy ways to combine humor with educational content.
Keep it appropriate and positive.
It should go without saying that racist, sexist, or demeaning jokes of any kind have no place in the classroom. Humor should be light and upbeat, not sarcastic or negative. Snarky jokes could cultivate an environment of negativity, so keep the humorous elements lighthearted. At the same time, instructors and designers should think about how much humor is appropriate. Too much joking can give the impression that the material (or the instructor) should not be taken seriously.
When used judiciously, humor designed to support learning can be a positive force in the online classroom. Humor always has a point of view, so incorporating humor into online learning is a good way to apply the “personalization principle”—the idea that students are more likely to stay interested and retain information when they sense that there is a real, live teacher behind the text.
For some, bringing humor into the classroom can appear daunting or possibly inauthentic. If humor isn’t a tool you feel comfortable using just yet, you might want to consider starting small by incorporating humorous comics, videos, or memes into your courses.
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