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BFTP: Engage or Entertain

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post January 24, 2008.  This post went on to bigger and better things as a column on the Education World website here and as an opener to one of my presentations.

Engage: to hold the attention of : to induce to participate 

Entertain: to provide entertainment [amusement or diversion provided especially by performers]

It's a fallacy to believe today's students are unhappy unless they are entertained.

In Tuesday night's PBS show, Growing Up Online* (an episode of Frontline) a classroom teacher lamented that given the amount of time kids are spending on line that they now need to be entertained if you want their attention. It's not an uncommon complaint.

But I don't believe it is a valid one. The terms "entertain" and "engage" are being used synonymously. There are important distinctions. 

  • Entertainment's primary purpose is to create an enjoyable experience; engagement's primary purpose is to focus attention so learning occurs.
  • Entertainment is ephemeral, often frivolous; engagement creates long-lasting results and deals with important issues.
  • Entertainment needs have little relevance to the the reader/watcher/listener; engagement experiences most often relate directly to the learner.
  • Entertainment is an escape from problems; engagement involves solving problems.
  • Entertainment results through the creativity of others; engagement asks for creativity on the part of the learner.
  • Perhaps the greatest distinction is that entertain is often passive, whereas engagment is active or interactive.

I am not convinced that kids need constant entertainment anymore that any of us do. But they do demand, and should, learning that is engaging.

Just a few random thoughts early this morning as I finish preparing for the three workshops I am giving soon.  Today's educators are as demanding as any Net Gen student, so I hope I remember the distinction myself.

Is there a difference between entertaining and engaging the learner? How do you make the distinction? 

 * I thought the Frontline program was excellent and balanced. I especially appreciated experts like Anne Collier and Danah Boyd rather than some spooky guy from the FBI. Some good parenting lessons in it as well.


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