Factors and Recommendations to Support Students’ Enjoyment of Online Learning With Fun

A Mixed Method Study During COVID-19


Okada, Alexandra and Sheehy, Kieron (2020). Factors and Recommendations to Support Students’ Enjoyment of Online Learning With Fun: A Mixed Method Study During COVID-19. Frontiers in Education, 5(1), article no. 584351.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2020.584351


Understanding components that influence students’ enjoyment of distance higher education is increasingly important to enhance academic performance and retention. Although there is a growing body of research about students’ engagement with online learning, a research gap exists concerning whether fun affect students’ enjoyment. A contributing factor to this situation is that the meaning of fun in learning is unclear, and its possible role is controversial. This research is original in examining students’ views about fun and online learning, and influential components and connections. This study investigated the beliefs and attitudes of a sample of 551 distance education students including pre-services and in-service teachers, consultants and education professionals using a mixed-method approach. Quantitative and Qualitative data were generated through a self-reflective instrument during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings revealed that 88.77% of participants valued fun in online learning; linked to well-being, motivation and performance. However, 16.66% mentioned that fun within online learning could take the focus off their studies and result in distraction or loss of time. Principal component analysis revealed three groups of students who found (1) fun relevant in socio-constructivist learning (2) no fun in traditional transmissive learning and (3) disturbing fun in constructivist learning. This study also provides key recommendations extracted from participants’ views supported by consensual review for course teams, teaching staff and students to enhance online learning experiences with enjoyment and fun.

Drawing as a mediating artefact to support Responsible Research and Innovation with fun

by Alexandra Okada

In the context of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), drawing when combined with other methods can be considered a useful instrument for explorations of participants’ views. RRI aims to examine the priorities, views and values of all participants; so that scientific development is aligned with the expectation and needs of societal actors including youth (EC, 2020).

A research study in Ireland developed by Tatlow-Golden (2011) investigated the views of young people about “Who am I?” through the activities and types of relationships they valued most. This was explored through drawings and other graphic means such as ‘Identity Pies’, as well as interviews. Drawing combined with conversation and writing was important to identify what the young people thought was important and why.

When young people talked, drew and wrote about what was important to them, and why, they foregrounded many relationships beyond peer popularity (friendship, and relationships with parents, siblings, extended family and even pets) and activities beyond sports and school (very many creative and active pastimes)…

Young people almost never mentioned school or curricular learning — unless it was to discuss relationships or activities in the school context, or the obligation to ‘get an education’. ” (Tatlow-Golden & Montgomery, 2020:13)

This study was selected for the RUMPUS – we explore fun – blog to highlight the importance of selecting enjoyable instruments and procedures that help participants to express themselves in a more pleasant way.  Drawing combined with dialogue can promote the involvement of youth to respond to questions with more freedom than articulating words. It also supports researchers by creating opportunities for a more spontaneous conversation and reflection which can generate more meaningful data when participants are enjoying the experience.

The methodology of this study is also useful for CONNECT and OLAF researchers who are interested in fun participatory approaches to explore learning and engagement.  Drawing can be an engaging and helpful artefact to externalise views and values where words may be more difficult than visual representation. Artefacts that are enjoyable for participants are helpful to obtain more expressive and authentic views; so that the values, expectations and priorities of young people can be unveiled in the research. Although Tatlow-Golden found that participants aged up to 13 years readily engaged with these tasks, an important feature of using drawing in research is that some participants lack confidence in their own drawing ability, so it is crucial to create an atmosphere in the research encounter of exploration and play, rather than setting an expectation that participants will make a ‘good’ drawing.

The work of Tatlow-Golden (Tatlow-Golden & Guerin, 2010, 2017; Tatlow-Golden, 2011) is considered original and relevant because it examined the voices of youth about their lived   experiences through qualitative instruments (conversation, drawing and writing) to question the validity of quantitative self-concept scales that are widely used in psychological and educational research. This body of work found that conventional self-concept research scales are limited as they omit domains of self that young people value.

Tatlow – Golden and Montgomery (2020) highlight that “it is impossible to  imagine  how  psychological  measures  that  do  not incorporate children’s perspectives can yield accurate, meaningful psychological findings about young people’s selves.

Without such insights, psychologists are unlikely to achieve their ultimate goal of supporting children and young people to develop and fulfil their potential, and so this is another area in which Childhood Studies perspectives and methods have the potential to enrich psychological research”.

The methodological approach that combines drawing and dialogue to for participants to express themselves is congruent with RRI which highlights the importance of incorporating participants’ perspectives – their thoughts, views and voices during the process of research and innovation.

Figure 1: An example of a child drawing (1) basketball after school, (2) breaktime, and (3) videogames at home   from Tatlow ‐ Golden & Guerin

Figure 2:  Procedures to combine drawing, dialogue and writing from Tatlow ‐ Golden & Guerin (2011)

Figure 3:  Visual Analogue Scale to check participants’ self-rated importance of aspects of self featured in their drawing   from Tatlow ‐ Golden (2011), see also Tatlow-Golden & Guerin (2017)

Figure 4:  Identity pie from Tatlow ‐ Golden (2011)

Other studies that use drawing as part of the research methodology also highlight that drawing needs to be integrated with other instruments. Sondergaard and Reventlow (2019) examined drawing as a facilitating approach when conducting research among children. Their findings revealed that children expressed feelings, emotions and, experiences through drawing. The authors suggest that visual representation helps children to express themselves more easily than through words. However, two requirements are vital, including other fieldwork data to support the interpretation of drawings and above all having a solid contextual understanding of the field.

Blog Video Interview   

Mimi, could you please let us know what inspire you to use drawing in your research? What were the challenges and benefits?

What are your recommendations for researchers who are looking for research instruments that are fun (children will enjoy it) to explore fun in learning ?


Identity Pie


is a   graphical method  for representing the relative importance of my self-concept domains used to describe who I am.
(Who am I?)
Is a self-description about what I am;
it  includes self-representation, for example,
about my values, roles, activities, goals in my life.
It is closely related to self-esteem
Self-esteem how much I appreciate and like myself, what I am.


Søndergaard, E., & Reventlow, S. (2019). Drawing as a facilitating approach when conducting research among children. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 18, 1609406918822558.

Tatlow-Golden, Mimi and Montgomery, Heather (2020). Childhood Studies and child psychology: Disciplines in dialogue? Children & Society (Early access).

Guerin, Suzanne and Tatlow-Golden, Mimi (2019). How Valid Are Measures of Children’s Self-Concept/ Self-Esteem? Factors and Content Validity in Three Widely Used Scales. Child Indicators Research, 12(5) pp. 1507–1528.

Tatlow-Golden, Mimi (2011) Who I Am: Exploring the Nature, Salience and Meaning of Children’s Active and Social Selves. PhD Thesis. University College Dublin.

Tatlow-Golden, Mimi and Guerin, Suzanne (2010).   ‘My favourite things to do’ and ‘my favourite people’: Exploring salient aspects of children’s self-concept. Childhood, 17(4) pp. 545–562

Questions suggested by Mimi for researchers and readers to establish a conversation about drawing in research: 

1. What are the challenges of using drawing in research?

2. What are the recommendations for analysing drawings?

3. How about reliability and rigour? Is drawing reliable as a projective method?

You are very welcome to leave your comments on our blog … We will be glad to interact with you!

“I like to climb and pick coconuts”

Moving Towards A Child-Guided Agentic Participatory Research Methodology: 7 To 11 Years Children’s Experiences Of Physical Activity.

Plowright-Pepper, Linda Caroline (2020). “I like to climb and pick coconuts”. Moving Towards A Child-Guided Agentic Participatory Research Methodology: 7 To 11 Years Children’s Experiences Of Physical Activity. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.000121bd


In 2018 only 18% of children met the UK Chief Medical Officers’ recommended physical activity levels in England (Public Health England, 2018). Despite emerging evidence suggesting that declines in physical activity may originate from 7 years old, little research has been undertaken with middle childhood children. This study addresses gaps in research which gives children an opportunity to express their lived experiences of physical activity.

The aim of this thesis was to evaluate the extent to which a new child-guided approach to researching lived experiences of middle childhood physical activity provided insights into children’s activity choices and familial influences. Informed by social constructivism this study assumed that children were agentic social actors capable not only of contributing to research but capable of guiding research into matters which affected them. Participatory and existential phenomenological methodologies were brought together in a new model of agentic child-guided (AChiG) participatory research. Physical activity was conceptualised as an embodied experience and framed as an individually socioecologically contextualised phenomenon (e.g. Merleau-Ponty 1962).

I enabled coresearchers to identify fresh conceptualisations of physical activity through the use of the AChiG model. Coresearchers conceptualised physical activity for instance as ‘conquering creative challenges’ and ‘playing at’ structured activities.

High levels of imagination and creativity together with a strong motivation to connect with close family members underpinned fun and enjoyment which drove physical activity. Coresearchers also contextualised physical activity within a broad range of physically active and inactive free-choice pursuits. These competed for coresearchers time in fluid, layered and spontaneous ways. These insights and lessons learnt from the new child-guided approach provide potentially fruitful strands to inform further research.

“Sources of fun and enjoyment were multi-stranded and interconnecting. For instance, perceived competence and a sense of mastery(Mccarthy and Jones, 2007b)could be underpinned by a sense of autonomy and agency in the decision to participate,(Mackintosh et al., 2011). Fun was found both in the activity itself but also in having a friend with whom to share the activity (Agbuga, Xiang and McBride, 2012)”

The value of fun in online learning

a study supported by responsible research and innovation and open data


Okada, Alexandra and Sheehy, Kieron (2020). The value of fun in online learning: a study supported by responsible research and innovation and open data. Revista e-Curriculum, 18(2) pp. 319–343.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.23925/1809-3876.2020v18i2p590-613


Okada, Alexandra and Sheehy, Kieron (2020). The value of fun in online learning: a study supported by responsible research and innovation and open data. Revista e-Curriculum, 18(2) pp. 319–343.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.23925/1809-3876.2020v18i2p590-613


Humanistic learner-centred curriculum approaches that use new technologies are vital as a response to a world dominated by grand challenges such as the COVID-19. This article examines the value of fun in distance education to promote student success and retention. Although the experience of fun is part of human nature, research in this area is sparse. This mixed-methods study, informed by Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and open data, focused on 206 students including teachers, consultants and education professionals. The results indicated that 91% of participants valued fun in online learning; highlighting well-being, motivation and performance. However, 17% believed that fun within learning could take the focus off their studies and result in distraction or loss of time. This article introduces the new concept of emancipatory fun and offers some educational recommendations

Portuguese Abstract – Abordagens curriculares mais humanistas centradas no aprendiz com tecnologias são vitais como uma resposta para o mundo dominado por grandes desafios, tais como a COVID-19. Este artigo examina o valor da diversão na Educação a Distância visando promover o sucesso dos estudantes e reduzir a evasão. Embora a experiência da diversão seja parte da natureza humana, pesquisas nessa área são escassas. Este estudo de métodos mistos apoiado pela Pesquisa e Inovação Responsáveis (RRI) e dados abertos focou 206 estudantes, incluindo professores, consultores e profissionais da educação. Os resultados indicaram que 91% dos participantes valorizaram a aprendizagem on-line divertida, destacando bem-estar, motivação e desempenho. Entretanto, 17% acreditaram que a diversão na aprendizagem poderia tirar o foco dos estudos, resultando em distração ou perda de tempo. Este artigo introduz o novo conceito de diversão emancipatória e oferece algumas recomendações

In celebration of sensory methods and movement

By Sarah Huxley

Can you understand what an ice cream is without eating it, but by only looking at it and describing it? Without experiencing its texture, taste, coldness, flavour, smell, and examining the multi-faceted and layered sensory experience that is all part of the process of eating an ice cream. This process is in its own way a celebration of sensory experience, movement and being. The process of eating an ice cream is a blog post in itself, but I won’t digress.

Source: Unsplash @Foodism360

For my research on exploring fun and learning, I understand ‘fun’ to be an ice cream of sorts. This may also be partly because I am writing this blog in 32-degree heat, but the metaphor stands.

Fun is an ambiguous concept, which has different connotations in different cultures and deserves to be better understood alongside learning processes.  This is the premise upon which my thesis is based. I am looking at what fun is, does and why it may be important with a sport for social change organisation called Coaches Across Continents (CAC) https://coachesacrosscontinents.org/.

Source: Coaches Across Continents (CAC)

For the purposes of this post, I want to acknowledge and focus on the work of the anthropologist Tim Ingold, in particular, his joyful book “Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description” (2011). Here he sets the case for his beliefs that “it is by moving that we know… a being that moves, knows and describes must be observant…[and] is being alive to the world” (Ingold, 2011: xii). Ingold does not like binaries: the mind is not a separate entity to the body (drawing from Merleu Ponty), nor is the world we inhabit a separate entity to humanity. For him ‘wayfaring’ is the rhythmic patterning of how people contribute alongside “through their movements to its [the worlds] ongoing formation” (p.44).

Ingold (2011) reminds sensory researchers of the bias of “head over heels”, and that the sense of touch, especially via feet and its wayfaring with the ground, especially in Western research practices is often ignored. Actually, there is much to be learnt as a researcher from his call to focus on the movement of intransitive and haptic experiences: not from the “accumulation of knowledge through successive points of rest”, but rather to consider that “for the most part we do not perceive things from a single vantage point, but rather by walking around them” (p.45).

As I am starting to build and prepare my methods using sensory ethnography, and this will mean participating and observing the ‘on-pitch’ games that CAC develop and use with their partners and children across the globe. Ingold’s work, therefore, reminds me to not lose grounding with my feet and embodied experiences, and to not simply focus on what I see at certain points. Rather examine if and how my sense of touch and movement throughout can communicate a reality about how fun and learning are understood through the play-based games of CAC.

Source: Ramesh Iyer

By the way, my favourite ice cream is pistachio: it’s not just about the vivid colour, or the visual audacity of it – I love the crunchiness of the nuts alongside the creamy texture, and it’s almost almond taste. It reminds me to be grateful for being alive.

To learn more about my PhD research or discuss your ice cream preferences you can follow me here: @AidHoover or write to me at: sarah.huxley@open.ac.uk



Fun learning with Problem-based Learning

Rebecca Ferguson, innovator of pedagogy and watcher of Buffy joined Pedagodzzila podcast

Source: Pedagodzilla Podcast 

Can we figure out the classroom conundrum of problem-based learning, and the metacognitive monster of computational thinking?

Source: Anna Thetical

She suggested the Innovating Pedagogy report   Innovating Pedagogy Blog (access here),



Download Innovating Pedagogy 2020

Please add your comments on the report and the innovations on this blog, or comment on social media using the hashtag #IP2020report,

and try something a little different in the shownotes by the way, here’s a cheeky cheat sheet  by @pedagodzilla.

Communicating the value of fun through visual media: “I like school, I think it is a fun and happy environment”:

By Emily Dowdeswell

I am a research student in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies of the Open University. I am also a member of the Rumpus research group. My expertise focuses on art, creativity and learning.

My doctoral research project explores children’s narratives about their everyday classroom. I will be examining what 9 to 10-year old students think about ‘fun’ and ‘learning’ in the school. I am interested in the meaning and relationships between fun and learning expressed by preteens.

My master’s study was a pilot for my project. It revealed the frequent use by children of the word ‘fun’ to describe positive learning experiences. These findings encouraged me to seek better understanding about the value of fun for children’s learning.

The Open University Poster Competition was a great opportunity to communicate my study to others.  Having attended the poster workshop delivered by the Graduate School, my design centred on the idea that with graphic representation, less is more.

Unfortunately, fun in learning is currently a complex and slippery concept that resists easy definitions and models. My supervisors advised focusing on one aspect of the study.  Therefore, my poster presents some key findings of my literature review in order to show where the gap lays.

My work sets out the importance of education in the UK, the ubiquity of fun in accounts of learning and the contrasting lack of established framework for fun in learning.

It  describes how the existing literature is dominated by adult perspectives in order to show the need for a focus on children’s perspectives.  My poster was awarded on the  5 top list. 

The poster’s most appealing feature, however, was the cute photo of a dog wearing glasses. My approach will interrogate how fun and learning emerges from human, non-human and material encounters. This gave me the perfect excuse to to look for a fun photo on Unsplash.

A dog wearing glasses may not be a sufficient condition for fun in learning, but it certainly helps make a fun poster!

WELS research students snag top places in Poster Competition
Several postgraduate students from WELS participated in the 15th OU Research Students’ Poster Competition. An online awarding ceremony on 10th June announced the following winners:

Judges’ Choice – Winner: Claire Saunders (ECYS) – Building a community of writers in a university (click image to view)
People’s Choice Multimedia – 3rd Place: Emily Dowdeswell (ECYS) – Fun in learning (click image below to view animation)
Community Choice – Equal 4th Place: Shi-Min Chua (IET) – Starting a conversation in online discussion and Emily Dowdeswell, PhD student (ECYS) – Fun in learning

Many congratulations to everyone who took part!

Fun in different platforms

By Mark Childs

With the edict to Remain Indoors due to The Event, I’ve been looking at alternative platforms with which to collaborate with other members of Rumpus in a fun way. We had one meeting this year in the physical world, in the creative suite on the Milton Keynes campus, then tried a second one in the virtual world of Second Life.

I’ve also been experimenting with Engage VR and Altspace VR. The attempt to inject more fun into other platforms within other groups I’ve been interacting with has also met with different amounts of success. Below is my attempt to rate and summarise the pros and cons of each platform.

Second Life and Learning

Second Life. 8 out of 10. Compared to RL, SL is far better supported in its representation features. There are a range of options to choose from, and which can be changed far more simply. I found accessibility far easier than RL. It takes a few minutes to download and boot up SL, whereas accessing the MK campus takes about 30 mins (if you include finding somewhere to park). The environment is more engaging too, and the choice of communication channels, voice and chat, makes interaction far less problematic. Not everyone found the platform so easy to access, however. Wayfinding is far easier in SL than RL, as it’s possible to share links to a location. Locomotion is comparable. Although learning to move my avatar the first time (a matter of minutes) didn’t take as long as it took me to learn to walk in RL the first time (several months) after practice at both they’re about comparable. Overall, I found this environment much more fun than RL. The environment (though lower resolution) is easier to manipulate, and this promotes a sense of engagement and creativity that isn’t always possible in RL. Movement is fully supported; unlike RL teleporting and flying are both possible, and if you have build privileges, it’s possible to rezz objects.

Oculus Quest Educational Games

The Oculus Quest is a VR headset released in 2019 that differs from other VR headsets in that it is a standalone device; it doesn’t need to be linked to a computer to run. It’s possible to download different apps that provide social interactions. I’ve tried interacting in two, Altspace and Engage. VR Chat is another app I’ve explored, but have yet to interact with other people within it. All VR apps can detect head and hand positions, so some rudimentary body language is captured within the environments.

ENGAGE – hosting a virtual meeting

Engage VR. 3 out of 10. Then 9 out of 10. The reason for the two marks is that the process of setting up Engage on a Quest is torturous. I won’t go into the details here, but in two attempts at setting up people (first me, then a colleague) I’ve only got the time down from 90 minutes to an hour. It requires getting three different devices to communicate with each other, and installing software on two of them, and screaming in rage at several points when it doesn’t work. However, when it’s set up, it’s excellent. The images are still quite low resolution, and representation options are only slightly better than RL, but the sense of immersion when you are actually inside the environment is striking. The option to rezz objects into those environments, and move freely within them, is much higher than RL and almost up to SL standards. Teleporting around Martian hills is inherently fun, and it feels like the options can only expand as the technology matures. I’d need to experiment more to see how options like chat, and bringing in webcontent (fun things in SL and Skype respectively) would work.

Altspace VR. 5 out of 10. This was the first shared VR environment I tried. Accessing the space in the environment was difficult, no links here that can take you right to the correct area, and lots of wandering around quite crowded areas listening to lots of people who weren’t my idea of fun. There were activities to do (like throwing things) but the resolution was so poor it wasn’t that engaging. Think avatars that look like the removal men in that Dire Straits CGI video.

Games platforms

I’ve also looked at using game environments as fun platforms, so far Animal Crossing Pocket Camp and Lord of the Rings Online.

Both of these actually were hardly any fun at all. As meeting platforms, they weren’t successful as they require participants to complete quite a few tasks before they can add colleagues and then meet them. I rated LOTRO as 2 and ACPC as 1, because the latter seemed to bombard me with a whole lot of tasks I really didn’t want to do in order to get anywhere. The advantages of ACPC are that it can run on a mobile quite effectively. However, this then makes the communication channels more difficult to engage with.

Physical world

The physical world (“RL”). 7 out of 10. The Creative Suite is a lot more comfortable than a lot of other spaces on campus. It has sofas. The space was used in a particularly fun way as we had large pieces of paper and drew round each other. So if you can be inventive in your interactions with the platforms it can be quite fun. Disadvantages are, however,

  • Although not far from my home, most physical spaces for interaction are still an inconvenient distance away for most attendees. I find accessing it, and the operability of it, leaves a lot to be desired. If they installed a teleport option it would fix some of the issues, but that seems to be a long way off.
  • Backchannel functionality isn’t properly supported, which means that expressing your ideas at the point at which you have them isn’t possible.
  • Presence features. These are limited. Within RL I find that there’s no opportunity to change the default option I’ve been given – which severely limits my identity representation.
  • Movement and rezz options. Movement is slow, although the responsiveness of the environment and feedback is effective, there’s no camera movement option, so no zooming in on objects. Rezzing from an inventory (rezz is a term coined in the 1982 move Tron to describe placing objects within the environment) isn’t even possible.

Skype / Skype for Business

Skype. 8 out of 10. Again, easier for me to access than RL, and those who struggled with SL still managed Skype. Representation is more limited than SL, and also the demand on bandwidth of larger meetings means you may have to turn off video and then are reduced to a single static image. However, within the meeting it was possible to move around the physical spaces at our separate ends, and share different images there. As we were all at home, this promoted a more fun environment. We were also able to bring different elements into the dialogue (cats, masks, food preparation, etc.) spontaneously, which would have been more difficult within a co-located physical environment. Taking all our stuff to campus would have required us to plan what we were going to do in advance, which is far less fun. Finding stuff on google and sharing our screens (such as in the “choose your favourite trap door” activity) is also a functionality missing from RL and SL.

Skype for Business. 5 out of 10. Just less fun because it’s harder to add people who aren’t in your institution.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams. 6 out of 10. Less fun again because it’s such a pain adding people from outside your institution. It took me two days to work out how to do this. Also, less fun because there’s no admin facility to tidy up the conversations when they go all over the place. However, once the synchronous meetings take place, there’s a similar amount of fun to be had as in Skype. Teams also supports asynchronous fun better, so caption competitions, round robin stories, and simple activities like that are well supported. What’s useful about Teams is that all the contributors get an email telling them the activities are going on; they can contribute when they have time, but all get to feel invited.

Other platforms

Adobe Connect – I’ve used this extensively, but not to support fun, it’s difficult to see how fun things would work, because it seems to be such a formalised structured environment, but I don’t want to anticipate anything here.

Also still to analyse – Facetime. Discord. House Party. Zoom. Minecraft Edu

What would a “10” look like?

I think one thing that emerges from the analyses is the extent to which the functionality of these different environments is complementary, but there is none which is best at everything. Longer term, an ideal environment would combine the advantages of each. An augmented reality environment which can synthesise aspects of RL and VR may be the acme of collaborative fun environments, with representation features fully supported (such as motion captured avatars that respond in realtime as in VR), razzing and movement functions properly supported (as in virtual worlds), higher resolution and better sensory feedback (like touch as in RL), easily bringing in web and chat functionality (like Skype) and asynchronous content (like Teams) may be a few years off, but that really sounds like fun.

What do students think about fun and online learning during the pandemic?

By Alexandra Okada

Currently, Rumpus team is developing a series of studies about fun and online learning with undergraduates from an introductory online course module offered by the Open University – OU in the United Kingdom.

OpenLearn and Fun
OpenLearn and Fun

Data was generated at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  A variety of participants contributed to this study including a representative sample of beginners who came from secondary schools. As this module is offered to all undergraduates at the Open University UK, there were also students from other levels of study.

Two instruments were provided for volunteer students: (1) a structured self-reflective questionnaire (Sheehy et al., 2019)  which was replied by 551 students  and then (2) an open and optional question replied by 207 students who provided their points of view, with freedom including their perceptions about  fun and learning.

Most – more than 90% – ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ agreed that

  • To learn effectively, students must enjoy their learning
  • To learn effectively, students must be happy while learning
  • Learning should involve fun
  • I am enjoying studying this module

Students identified factors relating to fun and online learning as:

freedom, engagement, real scenarios, personalised learning, more pleasant experience, meeting people, opportunity to interact and learn from both the lecturer and peers, sense of humour, flexibility (study on your own time), study on my own pace, collaborative learning, expand knowledge and enjoy the process of learning and something that differs from the standard read/ watch and answer questions, more enjoyable learning environment.

These were associated with various benefits, such as:

taking the stress out, breaking up the intensity of learning, to better myself, to keep up and catch up with learning with a better mindset, more effective participation, motivation alive and inspiration, interest to interact and learn more, makes the student want to take part in learning and continue studying, less likely to drop out, improve learning experiences.

Some students reported that fun is needed for academic engagement but felt it was difficult to achieve online. They felt isolated and that they were ‘missing out’ from closer (and possibly fun) interactions with peers.

In addition to positive ideas about fun and learning held by most students, one in five (19%) strongly or somewhat agreed that fun can get in the way of learning. Some felt having fun is difficult or may distract from learning – preferring to study without wasting time. Some see fun as part of social interaction and would prefer to work on their own (i.e., without fun). Some felt online activities were repetitive and boring, linking distance education with an explicit lack of fun or contrarily as ‘forced’ fun. Some students who felt under pressure or stressed did not expect online learning to be fun and instead wanted more support from tutors.

Rumpus members found some findings interesting, in particular the connection established between 1% of students who highlighted that fun should not be forced:

Being able to work on my own. My other modules force us to participate in group work, which is why I didn’t choose a “brick” uni, as I don’t have the time to sit and wait around for other people to be able to do group work.” OU student, Feb 2020.

“I think fun can be a valuable tool in learning, however I question how it can be applied in distance learning, without forcing students to interact with other peers. Fun activities could be viewed as a waste of time by certain students”. OU student, Feb 2020.

Rumpus members shared their comments and highlighted the importance of understanding students’ needs and expectations.  Findings that indicated negative perception about fun that is   “forced” surprised the team.

“It’s interesting that two of the students who are quoted as finding fun a distraction, link it with ‘forced’ social interaction and don’t connect it with something you could do or experience as an individual. There’s always a tension between learning as the social construction of knowledge, and students’ experience of group or collaborative learning – but I’m surprised that it extends to fun as well.” R.F., May 2020.

These findings confirmed the results of previous surveys which  revealed, for example,  that  there is a negative reaction if students’ participation in forum discussion is assessed because they do not like to be forced to interact with others .

“Yeah the resistance to forced social interaction produces some surprising results, for instance one of my colleagues in Learning Design surveyed a lot of students and found that (amongst those participating in the survey) 8% of the students who are only occasional users of the forum, actually contributed less if the contributions were assessed – the interpretation of this is they resented it so much that they’d protest by dropping out. We regularly got students stating they chose modules to avoid having to interact with other students. It wouldn’t surprise me if these effects translated to including fun in activities, particularly if the fun activities were assessed.  I’m not sure how much it would help to point out that they’re not forced, students are quite at liberty to not do them and simply forego the marks – as they are with any other parts of the assessment. For some reason they resent being graded on their interaction with other students while they don’t resent being asked to write essays.” M.C. May 2020

Students’ reflective views about the relationship between fun and learning led to these six recommendations for all learners:

1. Fun can have a positive impact on your learning when you have enjoyable activities, feel motivated, focused and engaged with your studies.

2. Identify what is difficult or boring during your own learning and discuss it to find alternatives, in order to avoid anxiety or lack of interest.

3. Distance learning can potentially be lonely and isolating, so being open-minded towards social online activities might help you engage

4. Your personal views about fun can help you identify factors that affect your enjoyment and engagement with distance online learning.

5. Interacting with other students may be fun – so do consider these opportunities when they arise.

6. Keeping your study engaging and fun with time allocation and intervals to be able to face busy life and lack of time.

You can read more about the study and its findings in this OpenLearn article: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/education-development/learning/distance-education-do-students-believe-it-should-be-fun


Creating a Framework of fun and Learning

Using Balloons to Build Consensus

Ferguson, RebeccaChilds, MarkOkada, AlexandraSheehy, KieronTatlow-Golden, Mimi and Childs, Anna (2020). Creating a Framework of fun and Learning: Using Balloons to Build Consensus. In: 14th European Conference on Games Based Learning – ECGBL 2020, 23-25 Sep 2020, Brighton (held virtually due to COVID).


The relationships between fun and learning are far from clear. Some argue that the two are mutually exclusive, while playful practitioners draw attention to links with motivation, exploration and creativity. This is an important issue in the context of games-based learning – should fun be emphasised, or should it be set aside in favour of other elements? In order to explore the relationships between learning and fun, it is first necessary to understand the meanings of ‘fun’, a term that previous studies have shown is interpreted in several distinct ways. In this paper, we explore a new approach to researching fun and learning, the Consensus Workshop. This method was used to address two research questions: ‘What elements of fun do a group of educational practitioners identify within a Consensus Workshop?’ and ‘How do participants see these elements translating to a learning scenario?’ It was also used to explore whether a Consensus Workshop can be used to collaboratively create a taxonomy of fun, and to identify any practical and conceptual barriers to this being done effectively. Participants in a Consensus Workshop used balloons to help them construct two typologies of fun and its relationship to learning. We evaluate this approach and its outcomes, identify elements of a future typology, examine how understandings of fun are shaped by context, and consider the ways in which participants linked fun and learning. The study highlights the importance of context to understandings of fun, and also finds indications that studies in this area are limited by a tendency to focus on socially acceptable views of fun and its relationship to learning. It finds that a Consensus Workshop has the potential to be used to create a taxonomy of fun. In this initial trial of the method, educational practitioners identified multiple elements of fun and made a range of connections between fun and learning.