Can Funny Lectures Foster Learning?

By Brad Bell

Some lectures may be hard to pay attention to.  Some subjects such
as research methods and statistics may seem very dry.  What can the
instructor do to make these topics more interesting?   One possibility
is to use humorous examples in the lectures.

In Garner’s (2006) experiment, all the participants viewed three
video-recorded lectures on statistics and research methods.  Each
participant was randomly assigned to one of two conditions.  In one
condition (humor condition), the participant viewed lectures with
humor segments (e.g., with humorous examples).  In the other condition, the participants viewed the lectures without the humor
segment (control condition).  Garner found that the participants in the humor condition recalled more information on the average than
participants in the control condition. (1) Humor may increase recall because it is distinctive, vivid, or it attracts attention.  Greater attention may lead to deeper processing of the concepts.

This finding has important practical implications.  Examples are
routinely used to make concepts clearer and more memorable.  It
may be beneficial for instructors to use humorous examples.

There may be some limitations of education humor and the use of
humor in the classroom.  Offensive or unrelated humor may not be
beneficial.  It is important for instructors to use appropriate humor
that is directly related to the concepts in the course.


See Garner’s article for other research findings.


Garner, R. L.  (2006).  Humor in pedagogy:  How ha-ha can lead
to aha!  College Teaching54, 177-180.