By Erica Buxton*

The digital age represents a new era for “edutainment” (defined as a blend of education and entertainment). What was once a passive form of content where, for example, children watched to absorb information, is now a rich and vibrant interactive experience, providing children and parents with both viewing — and doing — opportunities.

As the edutainment content category evolved, learning components became immersed within storytelling, enhancing comprehension and retention. Digital platforms allow producers of edutainment content to address these fundamental objectives even further, fully realizing edutainment’s goals.

In a 2018 study conducted by Texas Tech University, the University of South Dakota, and Vanderbilt University, and published in the journal Media Psychology, researchers concluded that children who combined viewing edutainment programming with downloadable games, were significantly better at solving math problems than children who only watched content without the interactive element. Importantly, the study also revealed that playing with downloadable games and apps in combination with program viewing led to measurable gains in knowledge — without supplemental parental involvement. This is not to diminish the value of parental-child co-viewing, rather to underscore the learning power inherent in “viewing and doing.”

Pioneering educational programming personalities in U.S. television such as Robert Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo) and Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), recognized early-on the vital importance of establishing a relationship with the child — and every segment they produced was calculated to meet this concept. Today, edutainment producers and children’s media executives can apply digital technology to build a relationship with children as never before possible.

The Los Angeles-based EQtainment is an educational media company that has developed a full and immersive curriculum that children can engage with on-screen or in the classroom, and then continue the learning with board games, activity cards, pop music, books, and an array of digital offerings for computers, tablets, and smartphones. EQTainment’s Q Wunder is a multi-faceted program that boosts social and emotional skills with games, TV programming, and celebrity guests.

Before edutainment, the disciplines of education and the dynamics of entertainment appeared as rivals since education wasn’t considered “fun” enough, and entertainment wasn’t “serious” enough. The two were firmly rooted in their different goals — education to cultivate knowledge, responsibility, and growth, and entertainment to amuse. Edutainment has shown that — Pink Floyd hit songs aside — education does not need to be all drudgery all the time. Traditional classroom lessons can be gamified, that is retooled into competitions, and curriculum can be supported by visuals, toys, games, arts and crafts, musical instruments, playing cards, and characters.

Play is an essential part of learning. Children learn best when they are immersed in joyful activities. Since the advent of edutainment in the 1960s and 1970s, education has seen a shift from traditional teacher-centric instruction to a more interactive and engaging format. Educators came to recognize the effective role creativity could play in problem-solving. The influence of edutainment demonstrated that learning need not be a boring or painful process.

* Erica Buxton is CEO of EQtainment