Humour: The secret ingredient for learning?

by John Hilton18 Dec 2015
Humour is a device that when used effectively makes people feel terrific, said Eve Ash, Psychologist & Speaker, and CEO of Seven Dimensions.

In particular, it facilitates engagement and a physiological response that makes people feel less of a threat, she added.

“They feel more aligned as a team, as it makes people feel more sociable and more involved,” she told L&D Professional.

For Ash, humour is an underrated technique that traditionally hasn’t been used very effectively in education and training.

She said that the key to using it effectively is to strike a balance between being fun and being relevant.

“It’s great to have fun and to have activities, films, jokes or whatever, but as soon as they take up too much time or go off track they can actually be a negative in the training space,” Ash said.

“And so you get people thinking: what a waste of time, how pathetic is this, or why aren’t we doing what we are supposed to be doing?

“So the art of using comedy or humour is to make it succinct because humour doesn’t appeal to every single person.”

However, if it’s fast and spot-on in terms of relevance it works well, she said.

“This was the heart of why in the 70s John Cleese was so successful using comedy in business films because people really saw themselves or other people making those mistakes,” Ash added.

“The problem that happened over the years after that is the pace of business picked up, and there isn’t the amount of time available in training to waste time laughing at negative role models.”

In addition to humour, Ash said there are several other characteristics of trainers which learners respond well to.

This especially applies to trainers who are caring and show interest, she said.  

“If learners perceive the trainer, mentor, coach, or manager as a genuine person who they respect and see as a role model they are going to learn a lot more,” she said.

“I always find it interesting when you have a trainer who just comes in and does their thing and goes.”

This contrasts sharply to really talking to people at a tea break and wanting to know them, she added.

“It’s about wanting to know about their lives and valuing them as individuals. Not just putting themselves on a pedestal and seeing their job as a one-way thing where you’re passing information onto other people,” Ash told L&D Professional.

“It really is two-way, and it’s the natural law of relationships. If you show interest in someone they are going to be interested in you. It’s that reciprocity.”