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Where does adult learning end and training snobbery begin?

A few weeks ago, I posted the following question on the ASTD LinkedIn Group discussion board: Is “fun” the same thing as “engaging” when it comes to training design?

I was surprised to see more than 60 responses to the discussion prompt. Here are a few of the most interesting responses on either side of this question:

  • “I think ‘fun’ is a very personal term – what is fun for some can be embarrassing or demeaning for others. Writing content that will be fun for everyone must be a tough job – if every training designer could do it, they’d surely earn more in the entertainment industry? However I think you can design training that is engaging (and may be fun for some people).”
  • “What a great conversation. I agree content and delivery can be very engaging without ‘fun’ elements per se. More often than not, constraints on context, content, and delivery methods mean it’s not possible nor practical to incorporate ‘such fun’ content . . . entertainment, games, play, jokes, cartoons, etc.”

And then there were some responses that made me start to wonder: where do adult learning principles and sound instructional design end, and when do we in the learning and development field simply turn into training snobs?

  • “FUN IS CONCERNED WITH LEISURE ACTIVITIES  WHILE ENGAGING IS TO GET INVOLVED OR OCCUPIED FOR AN OBJECTIVE!”

The absolutist nature of some of these concepts, while perhaps interesting to debate in theory, don’t seem to win us many friends in the real world. Subject matter experts and other professionals who are responsible for presenting will often need our help in putting together a presentation that will hold the interest of their audience and can lead to change.

Will taking an absolutist stance over the definition of a word while disregarding the spirit in which the word is spoken win over the hearts and minds of an SME who just wants to present something that people pay attention to?

So I ask the learning and development community: where should we stand our ground when it comes to effective adult learning and sound instructional design principles? And where do we cross the line and simply become training snobs?

I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below.

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