Executive Summary
To gather data, I focused on responses from participants between the ages of 7 and 18, because this is the age range for which I design and write educational products. Though there are obvious differences among children in this age range, the participants are in agreement about what makes learning boring and what makes it fun. Boring learning experiences generally consist exclusively of the “L” word (listening) and the “S” word (sitting), and should be avoided at all costs. In contrast, like a Denny’s breakfast, fun learning experiences universally contain HAM: Hands-on Activities requiring Movement. Whether a participant is 7 or 17, he or she would rather dissect a turkey than listen to a lecture on the origins of Thanksgiving. I also found that participants in this age range find working in groups much more fun than working alone.

What Makes Learning Boring?

  1. Listening to a teacher lecture puts 7-18 year-olds to sleep.
88.9% of participants between the ages of 7 and 12, and 54% of participants between the ages of 13 and 18, responded that listening to a teacher lecture made learning boring. Participant comments included, “The teacher gave us some examples, but generally just showed us stuff on the chalkboard,” “we sat and watched the teacher, she never asked questions, she just told us about the periodic table”, “We read out of a book and listened to Ms. .... read,” and “She basically talked for the whole hour and a half.”

2. It’s official! Sitting still makes learning boring.
The experts feel that “Sitting for most of the day was hard and it's boring to sit that long…” and “…sitting for long periods of time makes it difficult.” One participant was bored with “sitting down, sitting still, and looking at the teacher.”

3. Lack of peer interaction is no fun.
One participant was bored because she was “…working alone…” and another prefered to “enjoy the learning experience with friends.” A common theme in the responses was that students prefer to work in groups, particularly with friends.

4. Enthusiastic teachers = engaged students.
Teenagers have trouble remaining engaged when teachers “drawl on in a monotone voice” and “speak in a “very slow and boring voice.” In fact, one 16-year-old participant claims “…the most boring thing about this learning was the way the teacher was talking…The teacher was talking like if he just got up in the morning and he was still asleep.” Ben Stein impersonators need not apply.

5. Content that is too easy OR too hard leads to boredom. (Just ask Goldilocks.)
When content is too easy, students won’t remain interested. As one participant stated about her boring learning experience, “I already knew how to do it. It was too easy. I was bored because I don't like learning stuff I already know.” On the other hand, another student was bored when “the work assignments were a little overboard. (Too much.)” The trick is getting the content level juuuust right!

What Makes Learning Fun?
  1. fun [fuhn] noun: hands-on learning
24/32 participants between the ages of 7 and 18 described a hands-on activity as their fun learning experience. In particular, 13 of the 24 participants described a hands-on science activity. One 14-year-old stated his science lab was fun because “it was hands on and entertaining.” Another participant “got to go into a hut and learn a lot of information about the Kumeyaay.” He enjoyed this because “interactive learning is more fun and [he] find[s] that [he] remember[s] more from the experience.” It’s a given that science is best learned through hands-on activities, but what about the other subjects? It seems students would enjoy all subjects more if we took a cue from the best practices of science instruction and applied the principles of hands-on learning across the curriculum, as in the case of the Kumeyaay experience.

2. Breaking news: Working with others is fun!
Nine participants mentioned working in groups or with friends as part of their fun learning experience. Some of their comments about this include, “It is most fun when you get to interact with other people”, “It was also fun because I was with my friends”, “it was cool because we worked in teams”, and “it was fun because…we could choose our partner to work with.”

3. The use of media brings another dimension to the learning experience.
Four students responded that some form of media was used in their fun learning experiences, such as a slideshow, computer programs, flight simulator, and DVD. The student who used the flight simulator said she liked it because she was able to “learn to fly a plane by [herself].”

4. Creative opportunities allow for open-ended learning.
Several students stated that their learning experiences were fun because they included some form of creative expression. One student said he got to “build [his] own things and be creative.” Another student said it was fun “getting to be creative”, and another said her learning experience “made the participants bring out their spontaneity and creativity in order to succeed in the project.”

5. Choices allow for a personalized learning experience.
A final common theme among the fun learning experiences is that of choice. Students have more fun when they are able to make some of the decisions. As previously mentioned, being able to choose work partners ranks high on the list of fun. Participant also liked to make decisions when it came to assignments, such as how to build a mansion out of blocks, how to make an alphabet book, in which setting to perform a scene from a play, and which robot to use in a science lab.

I currently design web-based math lessons for elementary-aged homeschoolers. These lessons contain interactive pieces that need to be both fun and, surprisingly, educational. These surveys have made me think of some ways I plan to design future interactive pieces a bit differently. Several of the interactive pieces I’ve recently designed may have had too much talking that was not broken up enough by interactive opportunities. In upcoming pieces, I’ll find ways to decrease the “sit time”. Also, I’d really like to implement more choice when possible. This might mean allowing the student to choose a character, scenario, etc. to personalize the learning experience.