Humor: The Two Edged Sword

How Humour Affects Learning, by tvoparents, published on Mar 9, 2009.

There are numerous studies that emphasize the positive effects of pedagogical humor, it increases students’ learning and retention, affects levels of attention and interest and thus it is a great technique to keep students engaged and get them involved with the subject matter, it enhances educator-learner relationship, and alleviates stress and helps students relax. Though I consider humor to be one the most effective techniques, value its benefits, and strongly agree with the idea that learning should be fun. Yet, I believe that the strategy is one of the most challenging, I commonly describe it with two phrases “a two edged sword” and “all or none”. I have three main reasons for my descriptions.

First, some educators are humorists, they can narrate funny jokes and stories hilariously, I know some that even can write their own humor or add personalized touch to the humor to match the courses’ content, but the majority including myself don’t think that they are funny, and thus they are uncomfortable with the strategy and feel that no matter the efforts and rehearsals they perform, their humor can’t find its way to students.

Second, the classrooms have become increasingly diverse, many learners come from different backgrounds with many different experiences and many different ways of seeing the world. And thus educators must select carefully the appropriate type of humor and  avoid topics related to ethnicity, politics, religion, or sex, and assure that humor is free of any offensive comments that might mocks, hurts students, or disparage any one’ beliefs or thoughts (Weimer, 2013, February 1). But even if the educator was able to select the appropriate humor that is free of the previous issues . Local jokes, puns, cartoons or stories might not  be understood by some foreign students, sometimes they totally misinterpret the outcome of it.

Third, it is very difficult for educators to seek the correct measures of pedagogical humor ingredients. I believe there are two essential ingredients for pedagogical humor which are the educational purpose of using humor and the frequency of using it. For the first ingredient, When an educator decide to use humor, it should related to course material targeting to illustrate an instructional objective, and thus they must be able to select the humor that connects students and at the same time don’t overshadow or distract them from the main objective. For example, if an educator uses a very funny story to illustrate a concept, students are likely to remember the humor and forget the principle. As for the second ingredient, balancing the amount of humor used in the course is important, if it is used too frequently, students might perceive important topics as trivial and the educators might be damaging their credibilities.

All the previous points shouldn’t discourage educators including myself to use pedagogical humor. on the contrary,  they can be considered guidelines to use them the appropriate way and help us to avoid humor’s potential pitfalls. Lately, I started to seek online resources for locating visual pedagogical humor such as images, puns, cartoons and shared what seem relative with my students, I inserted few riddles in the students worksheets and used PowToon to create some presentations. This is just a good start to utilize pedagogical humor and definitely skills grow the more we try.

Weimer, M.(2013, February 1).Humor in the Classroom: 40 Years of Research. FACULTYFOCUS. Retrieved from


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