Engaged or Entertained?

The following is from a book chapter I’m working on:

Perhaps more insidious is how technology changes views of engagement in learning.  While engagement is an important aspect of learning, technologies have likely changed our definition of “engaged”.  Rather than engage students, much of educational technology use is designed to simply entertain students.  This notion sends dangerous implicit messages to students that learning is “a bitter medicine that needs the sugar-coating of entertainment to become palatable” (Resnick, 2004) or that only things that are fun are worth doing (Postman, 1985). 

Rather than education, this “edutainment” causes an “inflated expectation in the learners that the process of learning should always be colourful and fun, and that they can acquire information without work and serious study” (Okan, 2003, p. 255).  Indeed, Kazanci and Okan (2009) described a random sample of language software to be overly entertaining and “disneyfied”.  As Okan (2003, p. 259) notes, these messages being sent by technology and technology use are problematic because…

…meaningful learning may sometimes be difficult and requires cognitive and emotional effort should be kept in mind; this point is especially relevant in the light of the fact that post-secondary education is not usually a fun undertaking. On the other hand, recognising [sic] the serious nature of higher education does not necessarily mean that fun is an opposite of activities that are serious.

While educators might see students more “engaged” with the technologies used in classrooms, educators should wonder if students are engaged or entertained. 

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8 Responses to Engaged or Entertained?

  1. Ross Peters says:

    Technology isn’t really the problem. The smart kids are going to learn while others won’t. Just like some kids believe in A’s and others believe it’s just manipulation of young minds.

  2. CristinaM. says:

    While I believe in play as a pathway to creativity, it strikes me to see how many educators dismiss the concept of “effort” and readily use “fun” activities that address just the surface of learning (if any takes place).
    This technology bubble that we live in seems to distract us from understanding that cognition is a rather complex process and effort is required to actually learn. I even wrote a blog post about a year ago entitled “Why I Don’t Like Only ‘Fun’” and emphasized these aspects. And no, I am not an “old school” teacher – on the contrary, I teach in an inquiry-based environment, and use technology WHEN it enhances learning.
    This brief post is spot on.

  3. Kris McGuire says:

    I’m sure that I was guilty of “edutainment” when we first became a 1:1 school in February 2012; however, as the semester progressed, I began to feel that something was a bit off – kind of a nagging ache that wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t as if the students weren’t learning, it was more about the level of their learning. lt wasn’t until the end of April when I began a persuasive unit that I felt technology was enhancing their learning rather than just engaging them. So now I have the summer to revise my units keeping the question “When I integrate technology into my lessons, how is it going to deepen the students’ learning and how much effort will it take on their part to show their understanding?” As far as fun, I’ll take care of that by creating relationships with my students, cracking my “lame” jokes, using humor to develop and maintain a positive classroom…the list goes on.

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  5. ellbur says:

    The part that I don’t quite get is that there will be “inflated expectation in the learners that the process of learning should always be colourful and fun, and that they can acquire information without work and serious study”. This seems to be contrary to the other concerns listed. Is the worry that the students will learn *too* quickly and too easily, and won’t develop the patience to deal with frustration? I guess this is an example of a thought process I’ve never really understood, eg “I should stop biking every day because when winter comes it’ll be too cold to do that and don’t want to miss it too much.”.

    The concern about sugar-coating and the concern that edutainment will be superficial make perfect sense to me.

    • jerridkruse says:

      I think I see your point, but biking every day is something that take effort, so your analogy may not work. Imagine if you biked only downhill for a week straight, then the uphills may not seem “worth it” to you.

      Essentially, if we always sugar coat learning, then we are not preparing students for the reality of learning: that it is hard.

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