Fun is a word that we as teachers hear a lot. Whether it is from students who are moaning at the lack of it in the classroom, or peers bemoaning the focus of modern education on being fun. It is one of the words that is bandied around a lot, but it is also surprisingly difficult to understand.
What is fun?
The dictionary gives us a definition.
Something which provides amusement.
In this definition the implication is that this is of an almost frivolous in nature, something which is not serious; something used in direct opposition to “work”.
This causes problems when we talk about fun in education. If fun is couched in terms of the dictionary definition, it is disdained. There is a puritanical concept in education that suggests that this type of fun is a distraction that should be minimized for the good of the learner. The problem with this approach is that it fails to consider what game designers have known for a very long time, that there are different types of fun and an understanding of them can produce more engagement in students and players alike.
The list below explains the six different types of fun.
Hard fun: The joy of doing something challenging
This was a phrase coined by a child who was learning to program in LOGO. They were asked if it was fun and replied yes, but it was hard fun. This type of fun maps to the flow state as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and may be essential for deep learning to take place.
Simple fun: The joy of being able to do something without needing to concentrate on it at all
This type is the closest to the dictionary definition. It is the most passive of the types of fun and it allows the person to switch off their brain and zone out for a bit. It is, in some regards, almost meditative.
Social fun: The joy of talking and interacting with others
Humans are social creatures and we get a great deal of pleasure from interacting with others.
This type of fun is in some regards the basis for Piaget’s model of learning.
Creative fun: The joy of building something
From sandcastles to space stations humans get pleasure from using tools to make things.
Without this type of fun, all of human activity would become a grind purely focused on the immediate goal.
Destructive fun: The joy of destroying something
From sandcastles to space stations we also derive a great deal of pleasure in making things fall apart.
This type of fun is the basis for trying to figure out how things work by taking them apart.
Exploratory fun: The joy of venturing into the unknown
The drive we feel to cross an ocean, to learn something new or even to go for a walk is encapsulated by this type of fun.
The problem of fun in education is not that we are trying to include too much of it but instead that we are not including the right types.