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Edutainment, anyone?

Posted on: November 14, 2021

There is a line between entertainment and education. Unfortunately, some paint that line and call it “edutainment”.

A problem with edutainment is that it is sometimes confused with education. Consider the video below as an example.

Video source

Intentionally or not, the show QI informs almost as much as it entertains. It provides factoids to those who did not previously know them and so the show is potentially educational. It enlists comedians and celebrities to provide commentary and so it is entertaining. It is arguably a form edutainment.

I love QI, but I sometimes cringe when I hear the panelists on the show (or the hosts of the podcast) say ignorant, anthropomorphic, or otherwise counterproductive things in the name of getting a laugh. If the audiences know why they are laughing, there is little harm done. The problem is that they probably do not.

The video is about the termite queen. It is fascinating and fact-filled. But it is also introduced as disgusting or gross, and judged from how humans might behave or react. It might inform audiences about the termite queen’s life, but it also reinforces narrow perspectives and ignorance. The nett effect is neither more knowledge nor an educated audience.

The teaching of any subject does not have to rely on edutainment. It should not because students already bring their biases and gaps to a learning space. Edutainment could reinforce that state instead of breaking it.

The teaching of those academic subjects needs to be engaging and empowering in itself. If we rely largely on Hollywood, then we might lack the imagination and passion for what we teach.

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