Executive Summary

Recently, the combined sessions of the EDTEC 670 course at San Diego State University conducted a survey on what makes a learning experience fun or boring from 223 participants. SurveyMonkey, a subscription web service, was used to collect the data. The survey responses were then downloaded and analyzed with Microsoft Excel. Of the 223 respondents, 60.1% (134) were female, 38.56 (86) were male and 1.3% (3) declined to indicate their gender. All gender-based calculations used in this report exclude the responses from these last three participants.

In over half of the survey responses, boring learning events involved Instructors with poor presentation or delivery styles. Other similarities shared by boring events included forced inactivity, lack of interest in the topic and distractions in the training environment.

Activity appears to be a key factor in keeping an event fun according to the survey results. Activity in learning events can take many forms from with others, working against them, or interacting with objects. Age does not appear to be a negative factor when it comes to experiencing fun while learning. Two-thirds of the participants were able to describe a fun learning event that occurred during adulthood.

What Makes Learning Boring?

Generalizations regarding boring learning events include:

1.) Use of a monotone voice enhances boredom. Overall, 118 (52.9%) of the survey participants recalled issues with the Instructor’s presentation or delivery style. The Instructors voice was a particular problem as evidenced by the 29 (24.6%) participants who reported their teacher spoke in a monotone. This not only resulted in boring classes but in some unexpected consequences. For Cperez, “The teacher's monotone voice put me to sleep” in a high school literature class.

2.) Boring learning events frequently lack interaction. In the study , 30% (67) of the participants emphasized the lack of interaction as a cause of boredom. This is also a result of presentation and delivery style. In some classes “questions were asked to be held” (Db) and other events were designed to include “very little opportunity to talk or ask questions.” (Dancer). Jazzy J described an art history class where “There was no interaction between students and the professor at all.” Not providing the students an “opportunity to practice what they were learning” (Scott) was also identified as a missing interaction.

3.) Lack of interest in a subject equals boredom. Nearly a quarter (24.2%, 54) of the respondents reported that a lack of interest in the topic being covered in the learning event made it boring. The reasons sited for lack of interest ranged from “It did not apply to my current job.” (Mick16) to “no application to my real world” (Jeff O) to Spongebob’s “I already knew how to do it.” Gender did not make a difference in the results as 23.1% (31) of the female participants and 26.7% (23) of the male respondents reported lack of interest as a cause of boredom.

4.) Being forced to sit still for hours can be an excruciating experience. Of the participants who identified sitting still for a long time as a problem, 83.3% (15) were female. Sitting still does not appear to get any easier with age as 80% (12) of these females described events that occurred when they were aged 22 or older. For Astologer tany, aged 32 at the time, sitting for hours in a graduate-level statistics course was “torture.” Dianne reported a feeling of “being held captive” when forced to sit still during a long session at age 22.

5.) Environmental distractions can steal the participants’ attention and result in a boring learning experience. Both genders were equally affected by distractions in the environment according to the survey results. In this study, 17.2% (23) of the females and 17.4% of the males identified a variety of environmental distractions. Temperature and air quality were frequent culprits. Trojan complained about a “stuffy” classroom and Laka described a setting where “60 people were sitting in a small room with no air conditioning (100+ degrees outside).” Other environmental distractions included classrooms with “no windows” (Freaky Frog) and rooms that “looked like a prison. There was nothing on the walls.” (Imax) Proximity to a more fun venue such as “near the beach” (Murphy) also made the learning event boring.

What Makes Learning Fun?

Generalizations regarding fun learning events include:

1.) Adults can have while learning. Although the early elementary years are often associated with having fun and playing games, 66.4% (143) of the 222 participants who provided their age during the fun learning event were at least 18 years old when it occurred. One-third (33.3%, 74) reported being 17 or younger at the time of the event. Three participants, Cassie, Dav Lin and Das, recalled fun events from as young as six years old and Billy Meade and The Patient reported fun experiences at 61 and 72 years of age.

2.) Hands-on experiences increase the opportunity for fun. A little over half (52.3%, 116) of the participants, described fun learning experiences that involved hands-on activities. Spongebob “used blocks to build a mansion” and Jhardy described a trip to the Chattanooga Aquarium where she could “touch the butterflies.” Hands-on activities helped the participants “apply what we had learned in class” (Yoders) and assisted in creating lasting memories. M. Rich created a lantern to be “used in a night cave walk” and to “be a great keepsake” from her trip to a local village.

3.) People make a learning experience fun. Among the survey participants, 40.5% (90) reported that the experience was fun because of the people involved in the event. Instructors who were “enthusiastic about the subject matter” (Jim H.) or “encouraged student participation” (Michael) were often credited with making the event fun. Being able to “enjoy the learning experience with friends” (Chocolate 1) was also frequently mentioned.

4.) Competition can increase fun. Several people identified team competition or games as the fun component in a class. Masher participated in a high school physics contest to build the best balsa wood bridge as determined by weight. In anatomy class, Happily Mixed was part of a team that would touch a bone in a bag and then “have to guess which bone of the body it was without looking at it.”

5.) Relevant information can increase interest in a course. Twenty-one (9.4%) of the survey respondents observed that in their fun learning experience the information they acquired was relevant to their world or had a practical application. Jewel described a training class on job skills “that related to and can be applied to real work.” Marie had positive memories of a training course where “We were given practical ideas that we could take back to our classroom and use right away.”


How I will use what I learned through the survey to design future lessons:

The survey results emphasized several key factors that can help keep a learning event fun. The factors I want to focus on when designing future classes include:

• Lecture time vs. hands-on activities
• Interaction with other people
• Keeping the topic relevant
• An enthusiastic Instructor

On future projects I will be more cognizant of the time spent lecturing without an opportunity to practice the skill or take some action. I will look for additional ways to expand the time participants have to work with an application or product.

In addition, I will also try to vary the type of activities used such as working in small groups or with partners and will periodically change the team members, if possible. I like to include activities that involve moving to a new room or training area, so I will continue that process. It would also be a good idea to provide suggestions in the Leader Guide on how to modify an activity if an alternate training location is not available.

I work with adult learners and this survey reminded me of the importance of including a “What’s In It For Me?” section in courses I develop. If the participants do not see a need or use for the training, boredom will set in very quickly. Another part of relevancy is keeping participants involved even when they are already familiar with the material. This can be an issue in mandatory training required for safety or business purposes. Presenting the information in a new way or format, perhaps a game, may help to alleviate the problem.

When I am conducting a course, I will work on projecting enthusiasm. As the survey indicated a disinterested or uninvolved Instructor will also cause boredom. To help with projecting enthusiasm, I will take time before the class to review the material and organize the exercises and activities.