Why inclusive learning shouldn't always be fun
Keywords: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.
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