Does Humor Keep Students Engaged?

Does Humor Keep Students Engaged?
Summary: There are different ways humor can be added to online learning—this study covers four ways it improved content understanding.

Based On A 2021 Study

Nearly all of us have found ourselves in a boring class at one point in our lives—an unenthusiastic teacher reads through dull material and everyone seems to be waiting for the period to end. Staring at the clock, you wonder, "how will I ever remember this if I can barely keep my eyes open during class?" In the age of online learning, it can be even harder to concentrate, with all the comforts of home calling to you as you try to study. Conversely, the lucky among us have also found ourselves in stimulating and engaging classes. Sure, the material and your affinity for it can play a role, but often, an effective teacher can find ways to make the material more fun to learn through the use of jokes, games, or other activities.

Of course, learning can't only be fun and games. Teachers are faced with the difficult task of making learning engaging without distracting from the material they are teaching. Humor can be disarming and can help learning feel less intimidating to students. It may seem obvious that adding humor to learning material would help increase student engagement and learning, but can it be proven to be effective?

"Humor Elements"

Two researchers in Turkey aimed to find out just how helpful humor can be in the online learning process. To test the impact of humor on student behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement with a university-level programming course, the researchers implemented "humor elements" for four purposes:

1. Attention

The researchers hypothesized that grabbing the students' attention is pivotal to increasing behavioral engagement with a course. In this study, they used funny images and caricatures in the introductions to each of the learning tasks in order to get the students’ attention.

2. Recall

The ability of the students to recall the information they learned can demonstrate their cognitive engagement with the material. The researchers used funny text, such as puns or jokes, and funny videos, during particularly important and/or challenging learning tasks in an attempt to elicit better recall.

3. Feedback

The researchers thought effective and memorable feedback throughout the course may help improve student motivation and emotional engagement. To do this, they used exaggeration in the form of images of over-the-top applause or funny movie quotes to give feedback at the end of learning tasks.

4. "Humor Breaks"

The researchers speculated that allowing the students a few cognitive and emotional breaks throughout the course would allow for better emotional engagement with the material. Here, the researchers used an array of different media, such as clips from movies, narrative jokes, corny jokes, funny photos, and funny quotes to provide students with a small break after particularly demanding tasks.


The researchers found some pretty interesting results. They found that adding funny elements to the material improved behavioral engagement with the course, showing positive effects on student effort, such as turning in learning tasks on time, their active and passive participation in the learning tasks, and their ability to follow the material. As for cognitive engagement, the researchers found that humor was associated with an increased recall of information, self-regulation, and direction while interacting with the material; and increased sharing of information with fellow students. Humor was also associated with better emotional engagement with the material. The researchers noted humor had a positive effect on the students' attention and motivation, their enjoyment of the course, and reduced their boredom while completing learning tasks.

Adding more humor to the course did have one negative impact. While adding funny elements to quizzes seemed to help keep the students engaged with the task at hand, these students showed poorer time management than the students in the control group with no "gag" answers or other humorous aspects added.

All around, it seems adding humor to courses can not only help keep students from getting bored but can also make them actively participate in learning. While the use of humor should still be balanced in preparing learning tasks, to avoid distracting students or negatively affecting their time management, it should be implemented in more coursework in order to keep students engaged. Perhaps adding humor to lessons also increases work satisfaction among teachers…Maybe that’s a study for another day.


Erdoğdu, F., and Ü Çakıroğlu. 2021. "The educational power of humor on student engagement in online learning environments." Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning 16 (9):