HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
humor in the classroom
How often do you hear college students say, “that was fun!” on their way out of your classroom? Probably not often enough. Of course, who has time for fun when you have a syllabus packed with serious learning outcomes and one semester to accomplish your goals. Not to diminish the hard work involved in prepping for lectures, but when was the last time you asked yourself: Is my class fun?
First, we want everyone reading this to go ahead and lower their expectations. While the two of us are big fans of comedy and using humor in many walks of life, we aren’t terribly funny ourselves. But here’s the thing: that’s sort of the point. While we’re not comedians, we use humor as a teaching tool. And so can you!
Humor is one of my favorite teaching tools. I rely on it—when the room feels tense, when I sense learner drift, if I aspire to make a point more memorable. Humor doesn’t cause learning, but it does help create conditions conducive to it. It doesn’t make hard content easy, but it can make learning it feel easier.
Numerous studies on humor in the classroom acknowledge the important role it plays in the learning process. Humor has been reported to increase motivation, enhance the retention of new information, advance problem-solving skills, encourage creativity and critical thinking, facilitate a positive learning environment, and decrease exam anxiety (Martin, 2007). Given its importance, I’d like to suggest several ways to energize your college classroom with humor.
You have to admire scholars willing to look at 40 years of research on any topic, and this particular review is useful to faculty interested in understanding the role of humor in education. It starts with definitions, functions, and theories of humor. It identifies a wide range of different types of humor. It reviews empirical findings, including the all-important question of whether using humor helps students learn. And finally, this 30-page review concludes with concrete advice and suggestions for future research. It’s one of those articles that belong in even modest instructional libraries—imagine having to track down the better-than-100 references in the bibliography.
Humor, whether in the form of jokes, riddles, puns, funny stories, humorous comments or other humorous items, builds a bond between the instructor and students; bridging the student-teacher gap by allowing students to view the instructor as more approachable. A number of researchers have found that humor is instrumental in creating an inviting classroom environment, reducing stress, improving attention, enhancing learning, creating a positive emotional and social environment, reducing anxiety, enhancing self-esteem, and increasing self-motivation.
The contribution that humor makes to student learning is well established in research. It is not that humor causes learning; rather, it helps to create