In our November issue, we promised to feature an article in this issue about edutainment. Promises are often more difficult to fulfill than originally imagined. Writing about edutainment became a larger task than planned, so this will be a two-part article to be continued in the January issue.

What is Edutainment?

What is edutainment? The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "the act of learning through a medium that both educates and entertains." That certainly defines how the word came about, a combination of edu-cation and enter-tainment.

We would differ with that definition that edutainment means things focused on learning that also entertain, at least as the term applies to the location-based entertainment (LBE) industry. We define LBE edutainment as "events, programs and attractions where the entertainment qualities are the primary draw, the reason the guest comes, with the learning or education being a byproduct." Edutainment is any entertainment that also delivers educational content in an entertainment format.

Edutainment consists of two equally important parts: the format (entertainment) and the message/content (education).

It appears the education field would agree with this definition, as they have adopted their own word for learning that entertains in an educational institution where education is the draw. In fact, John's Hopkins University has hosted a number of conferences to explore the concept of what they call "enter-educate."

Our research indicates the first use of the word edutainment was for educationally oriented CD-ROM games used to teach children in an entertaining way. As best we can determine, our company was the first to apply the word in the LBE industry to describe the children's play & discovery centers we starting producing for our clients in the mid-90's, which we called "children's edutainment centers." The articles we authored about edutainment centers published in industry magazines during the late 90's gave the term adequate exposure to find its way into the industry's lexicon.

In terms of a LBE's draw for most guests, the combination of entertainment and education makes the appeal greater than just entertainment or education alone. One survey of videogame manufacturers and designers found that they believe that a game with up to 50% educational content will still be perceived as entertainment. Many informal learning institutions like zoos and museums are adding entertainment elements to their offerings in recognition of the greater appeal of this combination.

Categories of LBE Edutainment

Edutainment in LBEs comes in different categories. We have codified them as follows:

  1. Interactive & Participatory
    • Open-ended & Immersive (play)
    • Structured (participatory games)
    • Scripted (mazes)
  2. Non-interactive & Spectator
    • Seated & Scripted (movie, play or science show)
    • Explorative
      • Scripted (aquarium, some museums)
      • Free-choice (zoos, some museums)

Some venues offer combinations or hybrids of these categories. For example, an aquarium (spectator, non-interactive and explorative) might also offer a movie (seated and scripted) and a touching pool (interactive and scripted). Some attractions can be pure entertainment or changed to become edutainment. A maze can be pure fun and entertainment, or it can be overlaid with a storyline, theme and learning stations and become an educational game.

All of the categories of edutainment described above are either structured or scripted with the exception of one, non-rule based play.

Edutainment is Not New

The idea of combining education and entertainment is not new. Examples can be found throughout history. Myths have been used to teach members of a culture rules of life and acceptable behavior within that culture. Parables have been used by prophets to illustrate religious tenets. Fables have been used to demonstrate the validity of moral teachings.

One example is the story of Cinderella, which originated in China. In this classic myth, a woman from the lower class, through her physical beauty, goodness of heart, and help from others, marries a prince and lives happily ever after. The basic moral of the story is that woman's happiness depends on a man and a woman needs to be transformed to fit into that man's world. While the American Cinderella is characterized by her individual qualities, such as physical beauty and resourcefulness, the Asian Cinderella is lauded for non-individual qualities, such as filial piety.

Edutainment, although a new word, is not new to the entertainment industry. Sesame Street and The Wonderful World of Disney are just two examples of early edutainment television shows. Likewise, edutainment is not new in concept in location-based leisure venues. Zoos, aquariums, historical sites and science and children's museums are all examples of edutainment leisure destinations. In fact, all are rapidly growing in popularity. There are now over 300 children's museums in the United States. More than 93 million people visited major North American zoos in 1998, more than attended National Football League and Major League Baseball games combined. Museums attracted more than a half-billion visitors.

For-Profit Edutainment

Edutainment is now considered a for-profit business. Ripley's Believe It Or Not owns and continues to develop multi-million dollar, for-profit aquariums. Every year, 75 million people visit 220 IMAX theatres in 30 countries to be edutained. Half of the screens are in informal learning institutions such as museums, zoos and planetariums, while half are part of commercial cinema complexes. Children's edutainment centers are growing in popularity.

Many traditionally entertainment activities are layering education into the fun to increase their appeal. For example, paint ball facilities run scenario sessions with games based on historic events and battles.

Edutainment is as much a marketing concept as it is content. Because of edutainment's appeal, more and more entertainment products and venues are being marketed as edutainment to increase their perceived. Even some informal learning institutions are incorporating the word edutainment into their marketing. The New Jersey Aquarium markets itself as an edutainment experience. Kellogg's Cereal City, a corporate museum, is being billed as an edutainment center. Unfortunately, some LBEs are trying to capitalize on the concept by calling themselves edutainment when they may have nothing more than an educational mural on the wall.

Why is Edutainment Popular?

A major shift is occurring in values and how we now look at leisure time in Western societies. It used to be that people thought leisure was the reward for hard work. Work was associated with self-improvement and leisure with relaxation that had no other practical use. Today, people are using their scarce, but more highly valued leisure time differently. People have an entirely new attitude about leisure. They see leisure time as an opportunity to improve themselves and their children and do worthwhile things, rather than as strictly purposeless relaxation and entertainment.

Much of this transformation in values has to do with major shifts Western societies have undergone in the past several decades. We have moved from a manufacturing based-society to a technological society. Most people now work with their brains rather than their bodies. From 1983 to 2000, managerial and professional specialty jobs have increase from 23% to 30% whereas manufacturing employment declined from 16% to 13.5%. Even in manufacturing, many workers now work with their brains, where computerization and robotics are playing an increasing role in all aspects of manufacturing and distribution. A knowledge society places a high value on education and enrichment.

Lifelong education has become an important priority for many adults. In 1990, 20% of Americans 25 years and older had a Bachelor's or higher degree. In 2000, the percentage had increased to 24% and 52% had attended some college or had a degree. The 1999 National Adult Education Participation Report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 1999, 23% of all adults took one or more college courses strictly for personal enrichment; for non-work related, personal development purposes.

This shift to educational or enriching use of leisure time is also evidenced by the growth in popularity of educational cable television channels such as The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, The Travel Channel, House & Garden and The Learning Channel.

Next month, in Part 2 of this article, we will explore the power of perhaps the most misunderstood form of edutainment, play for children 8 years and younger.