10 Ways to Prioritize Fun While Learning

What’s the best way to learn more efficiently? Adopting proven learning techniques like practice testing and interleaved practice is important, of course, but research shows that, on the whole, introducing novelty is one of the best ways to stay motivated and learn more effectively.

Russell Poldrack, professor of psychology and neurobiology and director of the Imaging Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin has been studying the brain systems behind our ability to learn, make decisions and exercise self-control.

He points out that novelty activates the dopamine system, which is responsible for the same “feel-good” chemical that flood your brain when you engage in pleasurable activities such as eating, exercising, or listening to music.

Dopamine also plays a big role in memory, attention, and motivation—all of which are vital to learning. “When dopamine is released, it is a signal to the brain that it is now time to start learning what is going on,” explains Poldrack.

So if you can find ways to keep introducing novelty into your learning, it will not only be more enjoyable but also more efficient. Feel like you’re stuck in a rut with your learning? Here are some ideas for keeping things new and fresh.

1. Gamify your learning

What better way to make learning more enjoyable than to turn it into a game? Gamification has been shown to increase student motivation and can make even the most tedious topics more engaging. Technology has also made it easier to gamify learning, although it is possible to incorporate gaming principles into your lessons even without technology.

Some examples of gamified learning include competing with yourself, tracking your progress towards a goal, putting small rewards in place, providing choices wherever possible, and asking relevant questions and then working to find the answers.

2. Put theory into practice

Sometimes it can be difficult to grasp the relevance of what we’re learning until we actually put it into practice. Putting theory into practice is also a great way to commit new information to memory and bring it alive in your everyday life.

Of course, this is easier to do if you’re already working in your field of study, but it is possible to apply your learning in other ways too. For example, if you’ve been learning about public speaking, you could volunteer at a fundraiser or other event where public speaking would be required in order to try out some of the techniques you’ve been learning.

If you’re learning about web design or coding, you could offer your services to a friend or family member free of charge and see where you still need to improve. Sharing or talking about what you’ve learned with other people is also a great way to test your understanding of it, so look for opportunities to do this.

3. Use humour to learn

Laughter is known to reduce stress, and aside from making learning more enjoyable, research shows that humour can help students recall what they’ve learned and boost their motivation to learn. So how can you use this in your learning? Since humour is very subjective—what is funny to one person won’t necessarily be seen in the same way by another student—you’ll have to figure out how to incorporate it effectively in your own learning.

This might mean anything from reading comic strips related to your subject to watching a funny YouTube video to get in the right frame of mind before studying. If you need some ideas, check out these tips for bringing laughter to any lesson.

4. Connect what you’re learning to your interests

If you can connect what you’re learning to your personal interests or hobbies, you’ll feel a lot more inspired about making time to study. Research shows that relevant activities that engage students emotionally and connect with something they already know can help build neural connections and long-term memory storage.

Not sure how to do this? Focus on your learning outcomes and try to find a personal connection. Maybe the material you’re currently studying will help you become better at something you already like to do whether it’s socialising, playing a musical instrument, or exercising. But even just rephrasing examples or questions to make them more relevant to your everyday life can help.

5. Set clear goals for yourself

One of the most enjoyable things about learning something new is being able to look back and see how far you’ve come, but in order to do this you need to have some goals in place. So even if your teachers or courses aren’t outlining clear goals for you to work towards, you can still set some of your own and then track your progress towards them.

Reaching a goal you’ve set for yourself is also incredibly motivating, but it’s important to set goals that are realistic and attainable so you don’t set yourself up for failure. Once you’ve decided on your main goals and the smaller steps that will get you there, consider displaying them in a prominent place where you will be reminded of them on a daily basis.

6. Challenge yourself

If you’ve been lacking the motivation to learn, what you might need is a new challenge. There are a number of ways to challenge yourself, whether you decide to tackle more advanced study materials, set increasingly challenging goals for yourself, or get out of your comfort zone by trying a new or unconventional study method.

Competing against yourself can also be a lot of fun, so look for ways to measure and then constantly improve on your initial performance, such as testing yourself before and after you study.

7. Give yourself choices

Many of us go through life feeling like we don’t have enough say in what we do on a day-to-day basis, and whether or not this is actually the case, research shows that simply giving students more choices can increase their motivation to learn.

This could be the choice of what assignment or subject you would like to tackle first or the choice of how long you want to spend studying each specific topic. It all comes down to having that sense of control, because when you’ve been given the chance to make your own decisions about your learning, you’ll be more motivated to perform well and see each project through until the end.

8. Put some incentives in place

If simply reaching your learning goals isn’t incentive enough for you, you can always put some additional incentives in place to give you that extra motivation. Research shows that even small and arbitrary rewards can increase motivation and inspire us to keep working towards a larger goal.

You can make your rewards as small or as elaborate as you’d like, depending on the goals you’re working towards. For instance, a 10-minute social media break might be a good incentive to complete a practice test, whereas a night out with friends could be a nice way to celebrate a passing score on a big exam.

9. Set out to answer a specific question

Another way to increase your motivation to complete a learning task is to spark your curiosity by asking the right questions. Research shows that curiosity prepares the brain for learning and also makes any subsequent learning more rewarding.

So when reading a text or learning about something new, look for a problem you’d like to solve or a detail that you’d like to know more about. Try to pose specific questions about something that interests you or catches your attention and then work towards finding the answer.

10. Use interactive educational tools

If you’re bored with the format of your learning, it’s always a good idea to mix things up with some interactive materials. There are so many educational tools available online these days, from YouTube tutorials and TED Talks to online learning communities like Allison or Khan Academy, and a lot of them are free to use.

You can also look into the many learning apps out there. For example, Study Blue provides study materials like flashcards and also lets you track your progress, and Socrative is a great source of quizzes and educational games. Need more ideas? Check out this list of useful apps for students.


Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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