Learning With A Laugh

The use of humour in teaching results in greater learning success. This is why humour is now specifically used as a didactic aid in teaching. But why is humour helpful when it comes to learning? And how can it be used appropriately? Dana Sindermann reports.

Teachers who make students laugh in class from time to time achieve a higher degree of learning success with them. This is how the results of research into humour in didactics can be summed up. After all, a humorous statement, a cartoon or a joke eases stress and pent-up tensions. Also, the brain is allowed a brief cognitive break, after which it is easier to concentrate and receive information. Thus humour helps students to keep up their concentration and to assimilate what they are taught.

Humour must be specific

"However, humour should always have something to do with the subject matter," says humour coach Renate Mayer, for instance by illustrating information with a joke, an anecdote or a cartoon. Humour has such a successful impact, too, because it enhances interpersonal relationships. "In this way, teachers show that they’re interested in their students, make them laugh and want to win them over. This appeal elevates communication to eye level."

However, humour should be used in well measured doses. "It should be deployed in small elements, like air balloons which rise into the sky and thereby hold the attention ," says Renate Mayer. The coach regards three to four "doses of humour" per hour as ideal. "45 minutes of comedy doesn’t work, though. This would deprive teachers of their credibility." Renate Mayer has also noticed that the use of humour doesn’t work in all cultures. "In many seminars, we’ve got international students. And it may be that they find humour in teachers disconcerting, for in many cultures, professors are divine instances who know everything, and everything they say is correct and important. In this case humour does not help people learning but it generates irritation."

Cracking jokes also requires courage

Also, humour is something very personal and very individual. What one person finds funny may be disliked by someone else. Therefore teachers also have to take into account that their humour may not appeal to everybody. Thus cracking jokes, recounting amusing anecdotes and showing comics also requires humour. "What is important is that teachers find the form of humour that suits them," says Renate Mayer. "For instance by asking the question: what do I myself like? Is it perhaps a one-line quip or a narration with a long run-up? Is it verbal wit or body language? Or also by trying to remember how they have made friends or acquaintances laugh."

Renate Mayer will run a workshop on the topic of "Humour in teaching" at the University of St.Gallen on 11 May 2017. In this workshop, faculty members will be able to discover and try out their own style of humour and familiarise themselves with established humour techniques.

Dana Sindermann is a research assistant at the Institute for Business Ethics, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.