Can Adult Learning be fun?!

It is 9am and the room is filled with polite and reserved professionals patiently sipping their coffees and awaiting the day’s training presenter. We all know (and hope) that the result will be professional development but all too often it ends up being a poor excuse to ‘get out of the office’.

Sure enough, our presenter introduces himself and proceeds to spend the next 3 hours going through slide by slide, until the room has lost all focus.

 When he asks for questions, not a single person speaks.

 The reason?

  Engagement was never invited to begin with.


Psychologists Rubenson and Runco (1992) have long proposed a theory of creativity and focus that has unpacked the gradual ‘loss of creativity’ that seems to befall adult learners. From the day we leave primary school we are told to ‘stop playing games’ and to ‘get serious’ about our timeline, goals or responsibilities. But since when does seriousness exclude creativity?

In the adult training room we are asked to listen, repeat, and tick the box, complete the feedback form and collect our certificate.


The problem is never so much the content, but the delivery of the training. I am often left wondering what might happen if we were to apply Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning, or Freire’s philosophy of “Critical Pedagogy” to our adult learning spaces. This is where ‘playfulness’ could take the lead. ‘Games and Play’ encourage the use of cognitive and affective thought processes required for critical reflection thereby consolidating what is being learned. While each individual learner has different needs, our training rooms need to provide an equal opportunity to process information through analytical, sequential, interpersonal and imaginative training content. Too often, the sequential information processing methods domineer the room and it is my firm belief that “Adult Learning Space” does not need to equate to “tedious repetition” and in fact, could be much more effective in adopting play-based methods.