Expert Q & A: How can we make learning fun for new grantmakers?

By: Jessica Bearman, principal, Bearman Consulting

I went to Google and did a quick search on “Fun and Learning” and quickly noticed that with or without the quotation marks, all the hits were resources for kids. Searching on Adults Learning and Fun yielded a bunch of websites devoted to icebreakers… as though fun can be part of learning, as long as it’s contained at the beginning of the meeting or workshop.

And so then I asked myself: “What makes learning fun and how can fun make learning better?”  Based on what we know about how adults learn, here are some quick tips to build into your practice.

  1. HAVE PARTICIPANTS TALK ABOUT THEMSELVES.  As adults with a lifetime of experience, we like talking about what we’ve done and learned.  It’s a lot more fun to talk about our own experiences in the context of what we’re learning than to hear anonymous examples or – even worse – abstractions.  And we learn better that way.
  2. SOLVE PROBLEMS:  As fun as it is to talk about ourselves, we also enjoy talking about other people and organizations, especially when they need advice.  Peer assists and other scenario-based activities that present real problems to solve are effective – and fun – ways to learn.
  3. SURPRISE!   I like formats that deviate from the expected. Begin with a video or music. Ask participants to think about the topic using metaphors or with art. At the end of a learning experience, ask the group to reflect on the key takeaways. You can make a list (like this one) to tie the many threads together into something cohesive and send everyone home with more codified knowledge than they had when they arrived.
  4. INCORPORATE THE LIGHTHEARTED.  It’s always possible that you’ll get a few scowlers, but by and large, I find that people like to have something to fiddle with, especially during long workshops.  At a recent workshop hosted by Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, participants had pipe cleaners and playdoh to satisfy their multi-tasking urges, and I noticed fewer of them checking their cell phones.  Similarly, I think that colorful flip charts, engaging PowerPoints, and graphic recording tell a group that you’re invested in holding their attention and making sure that they enjoy themselves.
  5. SHAKE IT UP.  Moving around — in space and in terms of who participants talk to refreshes participants’ minds.  It also prevents anyone from being permanently trapped with a tiresome companion.
  6. BRING JOY.  This final tip is the hardest to codify because how we do it is distinct to each of us.  I’ve found that the speakers, facilitators, and educators I’ve learned the most from are those that project a true fascination with their subject matter, a sense of humor, and a delight in the participants.

Content Partner: LearnPhilanthropy

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Publication/Event Date:

2018 -- updated from original post in 2014

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Jessica Bearman



Human Resources Management
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