Learning to Laugh: How Humor Enriches Instructional Design and Life

By Josh Yavelberg, PhD
Laugh and learn graphic

In a recent commencement address at Duke University, Jerry Seinfeld shared a powerful reminder with the graduates: “Don’t Lose Your Sense of Humor.” This advice resonates deeply with our exploration of humor in training and instructional design, as discussed in the article “Laugh and Learn” that I co-authored with Artrell Williams, recently published in TD Magazine.

Seinfeld emphasized the importance of maintaining a sense of humor as a crucial survival tool through life’s absurdities. He acknowledged the ambitions of the younger generation to forge a more just and inclusive society but cautioned against losing the ability to laugh—even at the risk of causing occasional discomfort. His insights dovetail perfectly with our findings that humor is not just a way to ease tension but a strategic tool that enhances learning and engagement.

In “Laughing and Learning,” we argue that humor, when skillfully integrated into training sessions, can transform an otherwise dull presentation into an engaging and memorable learning experience. This approach is rooted in positive psychology, which highlights how positive emotions, such as joy from humor, significantly improve our ability to absorb and retain information. The laughter that follows a well-timed joke does more than just lighten the mood—it builds bridges to more effective learning.

We explore various comedic techniques that trainers can employ to enhance their instructional design. These range from simple icebreakers to sophisticated storytelling, all aimed at making learning not only more enjoyable but also more impactful. By engaging learners’ emotions, humor opens the door to a more relaxed and receptive state of mind, fostering a deeper connection with the material.

Reflecting on Seinfeld’s speech, it’s clear that the slightly uncomfortable feeling of awkward humor is not something to be shunned but embraced. It is a reminder that life, much like a learning session, doesn’t always have to be taken so seriously that we forget to laugh. Indeed, as Seinfeld puts it, humor is “the most powerful, most survival essential quality you will ever have or need to navigate through the human experience.”

As we continue to develop this concept through our blog and an upcoming podcast, we aim to delve deeper into how humor can be systematically integrated into instructional design to enrich both the teaching and learning experience. Stay tuned for more insights on how to effectively use humor to not only capture attention but also enhance retention and make learning a joyous journey.

Whether in a classroom or life’s broader stages, humor is a formidable tool that should not be underestimated. It enriches the learning environment and life itself, providing a necessary balance to our earnest endeavors. As we heed Jerry Seinfeld’s advice, let’s remember that to laugh is to truly learn.