Thursday, 4 February 2016

Two Guys Walk Into a Classroom

People are always asking us, “Why do you use humour in your programs?”

First, we haven’t always used humor. There was a time when we relied on sex and violence. However, this didn’t go over well with the decision makers and it’s hard to pull off when you’re not a government agency. So we turned to humor.

Fortunately, people seemed to like it. They identified with the characters, recognized many of them from their own offices and the issues they found themselves in, and so actually looked forward to watching our funny little training videos. Something they never said about conventional training methods. “That PowerPoint kills me!” is something no one has ever said with a smile on their face. But lately it has come to our attention that there might be some real science at work. An article by the American Psychological Association (these are people with much larger brains and much nicer lab coats than ours) reports that humor works because humor reduces anxiety, boosts participation, and increases students' motivation to focus on the material.

However, one can not simply interject a “knock-knock” joke just to lighten the mood. There must be a method to this madness.  

A research project conducted between 1969 and 2000 examined the effectiveness of humor within education. Communications researcher Jennings Bryant, PhD, of the Institute for Communications Research at the University of Alabama and his colleague Dolf Zillmann, PhD, of Indiana University, found that while humor can make learning more fun, it must be in sync with the audience's knowledge to enhance their attention, improve the classroom environment or lower students' test anxieties.

In other words, jokes that start off with “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar” may not help if you’re teaching a class on “Atheism in the 21st Century.” But a show about dealing with infosec issues in the workplace geared towards a workforce dealing with infosec issues? That could yield some results.

Plus, funny stuff gets stuck in our heads. According to Nature Neuroscience magazine, clinical research show humor triggers the dopamine reward system. Further studies show that dopamine is critical for goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory.

It’s science, people!

Sure, we could put all of our efforts into creating a dramatic tour de force that reveals the true nature of human existence. But, for one, it sounds like a drag and, two, we have science on our side and you can’t argue with science. Or scientists.

Trust us, we’ve tried. And most of the time we can’t understand a word they’re saying.

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