The Relationship Between Fun And Learning: An Online Embodied Ethnography Of Coaches Across Continents

Huxley, Sarah (2023). The Relationship Between Fun And Learning: An Online Embodied Ethnography Of Coaches Across Continents. PhD thesis The Open University.



In a time when learning is often reduced to skills acquisition and outcomes, this inquiry provides a sensory exploration of the concept of ‘fun’, showing that ‘fun-ing’; a state of attentiveness and becoming, can spark an experiential attitude and practice, through embodied learning. This transdisciplinary, socio-cultural-material ethnography, of fun and learning, took place within an educational charity that uses the concept of ‘Purposeful Play’, Coaches Across Continents (CAC). It considers how CAC pivoted, during the COVID-19 pandemic, towards synchronous online learning experiences. This ethnography explores how fun is socially constructed; how it relates to online learning; and whether fun is a meaningful concept within CAC and beyond.

Findings show that fun-ing is an embodied, creative phenomenon associated with themes including vibrant embodiment and embracing contradictions. By opening possibilities of knowing, through the body, not just the mind, findings also convey participants’ and researcher’s sensations and feelings: by introducing the ‘laughter critical incident’, as an entry point for discussions on roles of fun; and a spoken poem, which strives to capture the non-verbal, felt moments.

Ultimately, this inquiry develops an innovative model for fun-ing, bringing together how types and roles of fun, embodiment, and socio-cultural-material learning interact alongside Six Principles: practical guidance to cultivate fun learning. These consider learning spaces; novel ways of relating; spontaneity; verbal and non-verbal communication; online-offline capabilities; and alternative concepts for measuring learning. The Six Principles and model, both generated from this research, show that simultaneous online and offline embodied experiences are equally important, through conceptualisations of presence, movement, and mediating artefacts. Focusing upon ways of knowing through the body, together they catalyse activities that generate qualities of experience, often associated with being well. Furthermore, they encourage the use of the imaginary (often unfamiliar), alongside material experience, which can disrupt, bracketing and transforming future educational experiences.

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