Educational entertainment (also referred to by the portmanteau neologism edutainment) is content designed both to educate and to entertain. It includes content that is primarily educational but has incidental entertainment value, and content that is mostly entertaining but contains educational value. It has been used by governments in various countries to disseminate information via television, including soap operas or telenovelas to influence viewers' opinions and behaviors.
Modern forms of edutainment include television productions, film, museum exhibits, and computer software which use entertainment to attract and maintain an audience, while incorporating deliberate educational content or messages.
Since the 1970s, various groups in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Latin America have used edutainment to address such health and social issues as substance abuse, immunization, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and cancer. Initiatives in major universities, such as, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, NGOs such as PCI-Media Impact, and government agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have produced edutainment content.
The term edutainment was used as early as 1948 by The Walt Disney Company to describe the True Life Adventures series.. The noun edutainment is a neologistic portmanteau used by Robert Heyman in 1973 while producing documentaries for the National Geographic Society. It was also used by Dr. Chris Daniels in 1975 to encapsulate the theme of his Millennium Project. This project later became known as The Elysian World Project. The offshoot word "Edutainer" has been used by Craig Sim Webb since before the turn of the millennium to describe an individual who offers edutainment presentations and performances.
Audio and video
Schoolhouse Rock, Wishbone, Sesame Street, and Bill Nye the Science Guy are examples of shows that use music and video to teach topics like math, science, and history. Using music to aid memory dates back to the passing of ancient oral traditions, including the Iliad and the Odyssey. Much of what edutainment can offer through audio and video especially, is accessible over the internet on platforms such as YouTube.
Film and television
Motion pictures with educational content appeared as early as 1943, such as Private Snafu, and can still be seen in films such as An Inconvenient Truth. After World War II, educational entertainment shifted towards television. Television programs can be divided into three main categories: those with primarily educational intentions, those with a high degree of both education and entertainment, and entertainment shows with incidental or occasional educational value.
Mexican TV producer Miguel Sabido pioneered in the 1970s a form of edutainment via telenovelas, "soap operas for social change". The "Sabido method" has been adopted in many other countries subsequently, including India, Peru, Kenya, and China. In Mexico, the government in the 1970s successfully used a telenovela to promote family planning to curb the country's high birthrate.
Games fulfill a number of educational purposes. Some games may be explicitly designed with education in mind, while others may have incidental or secondary educational value. All types of games, including board, card, and video games, may be used in an educational environment. Educational games are designed to teach people about certain subjects, expand concepts, reinforce development, understand an historical event or culture, or assist them in learning a skill as they play.
According to Paraskeva (2010), at least 68% of American households play video games. Many recent research articles postulate education and gaming can be joined to provide academic benefits.
According to Van Eck (2006), there are three reasons why games are considered learning tools: 1. Ongoing research that has included the last 20 years of educational findings have proven that digital games can be educational; 2. The new generation of today wants "multiple streams of information" (p. 1), which includes quick and frequent interaction that allows inductive reasoning; and 3. The mere popularity of games has created a billion-dollar industry. The idea of playing a game assumes the person is engaging in that activity by choice. The activity should have some value of "fun". This does not mean that the person is engaging in the activity only for leisure pursuits; it can also include the desire to learn a skill, connect with other gamers (social community), and spend time in a chosen activity. The activity needs to remain one of choice for the gamer.
Radio can serve as an effective vehicle for educational entertainment. The British radio soap opera The Archers has for decades been systematically educating its audience on agricultural matters; likewise, the Tanzanian radio soap opera Twende na Wakati ("Let's Go With the Times") was written primarily to promote family planning.
Other successful radio programs that have fused entertainment and education include:
- DJ Nihal's BBC Radio 1 radio show which centered around 'edutainment'. He mentions this term each time the show is broadcast.
- "The Lawsons/Blue Hills" – a radio program that was designed to help Australian farmers adjust to new farming methods.
- "Tinka Tinka Sukh" – a Hindi – language radio program that results in environmental and health improvements in India.
- Soul City – A successful South African radio serial drama that carried AIDS prevention messages.
- The Donut Shop – A successful internet radio show talk about educational games that they think could be used in today's schools.
- Radio Ado and its radiodrama "Pildoritas de la Vida Real", a Mexican radio soap opera designed to disseminate sexual education among teenagers. This radiodrama was produced by the University of Guadalajara and teenagers from Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico.
- Khirki Mehendiwali – In an endeavour to improve maternal and child health practices in Bihar, a 37 episode long Radio Show Khirki Mehendiwali was created for the rural audience by BBC Media Action, India. Each approximately 15 – minute episode beautifully blends information with entertainment to disseminate one specific message on maternal and child health. The show provides a window to the world to its rural listeners by not only giving them a glimpse of the world outside but also unlocking voices, feelings, dreams and information, which they had hitherto not heard or experienced.
Toys are perhaps the earliest "edutainment" objects a person encounters, as many toys have also an educational aspect beside their aesthetic appeal. They can teach children literacy, numerical, conceptual or motor skills. Many toys (e.g., a miniature piano) are simply colorful, scaled-down versions of more complex objects, and thus can base children in skills and benefits associated with the latter. It is up to grown-ups to guide children to the toy's proper use in order to make the most out of it.
Toys are often employed in the context of mimicry and roleplay to partially experience personalities or situations not otherwise possible, very akin to simulation in video games. They can be used as primitive means to nurture an instinct or a character trait in children. Often, toys work simultaneously the other way, providing children with the means to express those things: a doll may be used by a girl to mimic her mother or express motherhood as much as to explore it.
Even for toys that don't possess explicit educational value, a thoughtful parent or teacher can turn a static figurine, for example, into an object of interest, by pointing out its features or costumes, or referring to its history or science (e.g., a figurine of a Native American may be a starting point for exploring American history; a Santa Claus may be used to explore the roots of Christmas; a toy astronaut to explore science...), which can be done in conjunction with a more-explicitly "edutaining" object, such as a picture book. Most children are naturally inquisitive (possibly why they sometimes break their toys; simply to know what is inside or how it moves or what produces that sound), and caregivers should not waste this opportunity.
Even grown-ups can learn through toys about children: what are their talents or interests; if they are more extrovert or introvert; indeed if they dislike toys and prefer social activities or sport, and thus capitalize on the children's abilities and correct what is wrong or lacking.
By setting outside of the classroom
The concept of educational entertainment is being used for building learning programs for organizations. High technology is used to make the programs entertaining and educational. As an example, PowerPoint presentations may become more entertaining with the addition of flashy animations or graphics. An article in a satirical newspaper, The Onion, poked fun at the concept of embellishing boring presentations with attention-catching effects. A fictional marketing executive in the article noted the previous lack of excitement in the presentation, saying "When we first finished the PowerPoint, the content was all there, but it still lacked that certain something."
Museums and public access areas
Edutainment is also a growing paradigm within the science center and children's museum community in the United States as well as many other locations such as the zoo or a botanical garden. This approach emphasizes fun and enjoyment, sometimes at the expense of educational content, yet can give those learning a clearer idea of what they are learning. Educational locations such as these are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to reach the surrounding public and get them interested in areas such as the fine arts, science, literature, history, etc. Field trip visits to these educational places provide interactional stimulus to those involved to learn about what is in these places. However, people are used to flashy, polished entertainment venues like movie theaters and theme parks and demand similar experiences at science centers or museums. Thus, a museum or a zoo can be seen as just another business competing for entertainment dollars from the public, rather than as an institution that serves the public welfare through education or historical preservation.
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- Hanna Rosin, "Life Lessons: How Soap Operas Can Change the World." The New Yorker, Jun 5, 2006, pp. 40-45.
- Marta Rey-López et al. A Model for Personalized Learning. In: Adaptive Hypermedia and Adaptive Web-Based Systems. Springer. Berlin. 2006.
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