Humor in the classroom

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A little bit of humour, general humour, can only lighten the mood and help a bit of knowledge sink in at the same time can’t it? That has been the view of many, especially within professional and higher educational circles, but this fascinating article suggests that this viewpoint may be not as clear-cut as imagined.
Based around a study examining the impact of ‘integrated humour’ on a student group’s ability to retain and transfer knowledge between lessons, it has emerged that students exposed to ‘humorous examples’ performed worse at both multiple-choice and open-ended tests compared to those exposed to ‘standard examples’. Now, of course, humour can be a fragile, risky element, even though it has been established that humour can contribute to an ‘enjoyable classroom climate’ in the right circumstances.
It would have been nice to have seen an example of the humour, other than the dry description that it was mostly anecdotes built around language and logic to illustrate the point taught. The demographics of the student group may have been valuable information too, but the reader has to (rightly) assume that the humour was appropriate and relevant for this group on various grounds. The research design was excellent, detailed and considered. It made for fascinating reading, even if the conclusions may be disappointing for many teachers and students alike: standard/dry is preferred for knowledge retention it seems.
Relevance and significance is high, as this appears to overturn conventional (or hopeful) thought. I can see this line of reasoning is a good research subject for many future experiments to see if differences exist by age, gender, culture or even knowledge discipline. Limitations were identified as well, and these seemed appropriate and relevant. Of course, this was one data point. Could there be anything “unique” about the student group researched? That’s something for future research, but the authors have identified an exciting research strand to build on, or demolish, going forward!
Bolkan, S., Griffin, D.J. and Goodboy, A.K., 2018. Humor in the classroom: the effects of integrated humor on student learning. Communication Education. doi:10.1080/03634523.2017.1413199

A post-publication review of this article that appears on Publons.