The Importance of Edutainment in Language Learning

Jenny Zhu ChinesePod

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on The Hum of Language Acquisition, the official voice of OpenLanguage.

‘We don’t deserve students’ attention, we earn it!’  This is a motto that I live by in my daily work, a thought perhaps echoed by many who teach adults or young kids. Students come to the classroom and go through motions, but are they really learning? As educators, we are competing with all sorts of media distractions for students’ time and attention. The internet and mobile devices have made it an even more fierce and head-on collision. But instead of fighting or ignoring it, we can actually take our cue from the media to make our work better.

Those who’ve seen Sal Khan’s videos can probably attest to his amazing gift in explaining complicated concepts and connecting with students. This ability is especially important in the lecture and input stage to introduce key concepts to students. It can also be found in many teachers, but not all. However, with the help of technology and multimedia, we can now centralize engaging and effective instruction and broadcast it to masses of students so that they can benefit from the best instruction.

There’s an crucial element in this types of lesson media, one that I call ‘edutainment’ where the content is as engaging as it is educational. Think about your favorite teacher at school and what they did to ignite your interest and engage you with the subject. You looked forward to their class and each class was a deeply rewarding and fun experience. You would never fall asleep listening to them. They were superstars in their arena. That’s what I am talking about.

At ChinesePod, we pioneered the concept of ‘edutainment’. It led me to firmly believe in the power of edutainment in inspiring students and delivering great instruction at scale. There are innate qualities which make one an ‘edutainer’ but there’s a lot that can be defined, trained and practised. I’ve often found that the best teacher presenters might not be the best curriculum designer or writer. Different skill sets are required. When setting up a team to curate edutainment content, I look for people with different skills to balance engaging star qualityand academic depth. If one overrides the other (and there are many examples of that), the content isn’t going to help students succeed. The pedagogy needs to be the backbone; the engaging factor brings it to life.

Watch: EDUKWEST #37 with Hank Horkoff of ChinesePod

In the past year, I’ve had the chance to coach other language educators to produce and publish their edutainment content on OpenLanguage. I am very proud of the results we’ve achieved with teams such as Arabic Anywhere and Ruspod who are creating deeply engaging content with solid academic design.

One of the other products on OpenLanguage EnglishPod China was recently awarded Best Education Content in 2012 by iTunes China. And I keep mentoring new teams to help  educators produce and distribute their language courses on OpenLanguage. I hope our work will help students get high quality edutainment content from the best teacher presenters and academic experts no matter what language they are learning.

But edutainment alone isn’t enough. It’s best used in the input stage to get the ball rolling. Students need tons of study, practice and feedback to internalize the language. I will write about my experience designing those in future posts. For now, let’s hold the thought and work to engage students.

Watch: EDUKWEST #93 with Jenny Zhu of OpenLanguage

Jenny Zhu is the co-founder of OpenLanguage, building the Tablet Textbook for languages which provides a multimedia, powerful and beautiful learning experience for students and teachers. She is also the co-founder of ChinesePod for which she hosted 2000 ChinesePod lessons, evangelizing the flipped classroom model for language learning. You can follow her on Twitter @jennyzq.