Best Practices: Learning and Laughing

Carole Leita’s “It Made Me Laugh” (posted on Infoblog a few days ago) made me laugh. And think. And want to acknowledge the role laughter and humor play in first-rate training and learning.
The starting point for Carole’s piece is a wonderfully humorous video promoting services at the Berkeley Public Library. It’s an effective reminder that humor goes a long way in making something memorable. A video simply announcing the Library’s upcoming amnesty on fines for overdue materials might have helped to spread the word, but viewing the Berkeley approach to the program makes us remember the event and want to spread the word.
Daniel Pink, in A Whole New Mind, makes a similar point when he writes about play and laughter and Madan Kataria’s laughing clubs. Pink, in his chapter on “Play,” could have put his readers to sleep by lecturing them on the joy of laughter in the workplace, but he keeps his audience awake and engaged by providing an example of how work and play are intertwined in ways that work to everyone’s benefit. In the process, he leaves us with a memorable lesson, and makes us laugh (or at least smile).
One of the most consistently effective and highly rated trainers I’ve ever seen in action is right here in San Francisco. Shawn Holle, a safety analyst with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, consistently takes topics which he himself describes as “about as exciting as watching mud dry” and makes them engaging through his use of outrageous and self-deprecating humor. You won’t find many people laughing or talking about training sessions they have attended on Illness & Injury Prevention Plans or Workers’ Compensation or Bloodborne Pathogens, but Shawn consistently makes his workshops memorable precisely because he keeps them entertaining, edgy, and unpredictable. The result is that those attending his workshops remember what he says, talk about the sessions with their colleagues (thereby spreading the reach of those workshops), and include comments like “From now on, I want Shawn to teach every workshop I attend” on their workshop evaluation sheets. Which, when you think about it, has to make you laugh.
Readers interested in sharing their own experiences with laughter and effective training/learning can join the conversation by responding with a comment here on Infoblog.