There exists a simple but insightful truth about the learning process: If it’s not fun, people won’t do it. If it’s not fun and they do it anyway, it’s not likely to stick.

To illustrate this point, here is a real-life example: Many years ago, a private school in Northern Virginia faced a dry patch in the curriculum. The impending learning unit about weather covered simple patterns and forecasting concepts, differences between hot and cold, and the changing seasons. These were hard on pre-school attention spans. Teachers found that this topic was especially difficult to get through. But a simple question, “What would make this fun?”, brought a revelation.

That year, they tried something different. Dressed in fake mustaches and clip-on ties, children sat in front of the video camera as meteorologists performing weather-related projects and science experiments for their parents. To say this project was a success would be an understatement. Word of this inventive curriculum planning made its way to the state educational level. Soon the owners of the little private school were speaking at conferences and giving lectures about the importance of project-based learning and educating with the child’s interests and needs in mind. All told, this idea was a hit with the teachers, parents and, most importantly, the students. All these years later, the question remains an important one: What would make this fun? Not all answers are as revolutionary as the Butterfly News,” but when there is a good answer to this question, it seems to make all the difference for everyone involved.

As an adult in the learning and development (L&D) industry, answering this question is exponentially harder. Donning funny hats and costumes is not an acceptable way to solve complex problems (though it would be fun). Nonetheless, the more successful attempts at corporate training are ones where fun can be found. Fun fuels passion and pursuing passion feels less like work.

Learning takes time, repetition and focus, which can make the process seem daunting if not boring. But effective learning also incorporates exploration, reward and stimulation. To miss out on these crucial components, especially when making a first impression on learners, may condemn a training program, or worse, a learning culture. Imagine completing something — a painting, a marathon, an exercise — with no feeling of accomplishment, no visible or intellectual results, no recognition of any kind. Probability of return to that task would be unlikely. Yet this describes the training experience many have every day.

The standard buzz has been heard at respective training conferences, L&D webinars, blogs and news feeds — personalization (at scale) and proper context for training rule the day. It will continue to be heard because “meeting learners where they are” proves a lot harder than talking about it. Truly great training — training that is not only educational but enjoyable — speaks to multiple parts of the psyche. Simply having a home for corporate learning isn’t enough. That home must be a place where learners want to be. Where they feel safe to explore misconceptions and try new things. More importantly, it should be a home they want to return to again and again. Aggregating recent trends and technology, like adaptive learning, social collaboration, using learner data and leveraging learning science are incredible achievements for our industry. Massive advancements in personalizing contextually relevant training, attaining objective mastery and making informed use of instructor-led time are being made every day — a noble goal, yielding benefits for the learners and the organizations upskilling them. But the question remains: What would make this fun? Said another way, “What would cultivate a love of learning, not just a corporate culture that accepts learning?”

Gamification comes in many forms and can be fun when it fits the subject and company culture. Leaderboards provide an incentive that really speaks to some learners. Programs where learners are asked to teach back what they have learned can provide new perspective and meaningful insight for those involved in constructing the program. Just like the training content, it is one thing to talk about best practices, but it is quite another to apply those best practices in a live environment where there may be technical debt, cultural differences, inadequate time or resources and corporate policies to navigate. Worse still, when it comes to training IT subjects, the content is not always riveting. All told… this is hard. So why not do everyone a favor and present the challenge: What would make this fun?

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