Why inclusive learning shouldn't always be fun


  • Steven White University of Southampton




learning theory, threshold concepts, troublesome knowledge, pedagogy


A recent blog post on the SEDA educational development forum led to a stimulating discussion about whether learning should be fun (Saunders, 2022). As learning developers, it makes sense to make learning activities enjoyable for students where we can. However, this lightning talk contended that some aspects of learning are unlikely to - and perhaps even cannot - be fun. Indeed, we may limit the inclusiveness of our approach if we fail to address this idea in our work. As such, it is important for learning developers to be clear with students that some aspects of their learning experience may involve struggle and discomfort.


Whilst it is pleasant for us when students end interactions with learning developers feeling reassured and with a smile on their face, it may at times be more helpful to see them leave with a look of grim determination. For example, threshold concepts scholarship identifies dimensions of learning that may require transformation not only of one’s understanding but also elements of one’s identity. Wrangling with troublesome knowledge within often uncomfortable liminal states of ‘in-betweenness’ is therefore necessary for students to progress in their understanding or ability (Land et al., 2008).


Drawing on recent educational and learning development discourse, in this talk White argued that recognising that learning cannot always be fun is important in creating an inclusive learning experience for students. Indeed, students can take comfort, confidence, and even a sense of belonging from understanding that their peers and lecturers struggle with some aspects of learning. At times, we may need to ‘suffer now’ to gain satisfaction and achievement in the longer term. We need to be up front about this in our interactions with students.

Author Biography

Steven White, University of Southampton

Steve White has been lurking in teaching, learning and research-related third spaces in HE for about 20 years. He worked in interestingly ill-defined roles while developing online MA courses and MOOCs for the University of Southampton, leading him to complete PhD research on the third space in HE. More recent roles have straddled Learning Development and Educational Development at Arts University Bournemouth and the University of Southampton.


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Denial, C. (2019) ‘A pedagogy of kindness’, Hybrid Pedagogy, 15 August. Available at: https://hybridpedagogy.org/pedagogy-of-kindness (Accessed: 1 August 2023).

Dickinson, J. (2023) ‘Welcome to the alien nation’, WONKHE, 31 July. Available at: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/welcome-to-the-alien-nation (Accessed: 1 August 2023).

hooks, b. (1994) Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Land, R., Meyer, J., and Smith, J. (2008). Threshold concepts within the disciplines. Sense Publishers.

Saunders, R. (2022). ‘Should learning be fun?’, SEDA blog, 15 December. Available from: https://thesedablog.wordpress.com/2022/12/15/should-learning-be-fun (Accessed: 16 December 2022).

Sillence, M., Clark, A., Dickerson, C., Doan, H., and Jarvis, J. (2023) ‘Equality, diversity and inclusion: learning from laying our cards on the table’, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (26). Available at: https://doi.org/10.47408/jldhe.vi26.915 (Accessed: 1 August 2023).




How to Cite

White, S. (2023) “Why inclusive learning shouldn’t always be fun”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (29). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi29.1100.

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