House of Games as a metaphor for adult education in practice

26/02/2021

This week, Jane Berwick, Founder of The Adult Learning Hub, shares insights into the unlikely connections between her favourite game show and good adult education practices.


Every night at 6pm on BBC, my husband and I eagerly settle down to watch Richard Osman's House of Games. It's been part of our daily routine during Covid that we look forward to every night without fail. It helps us unwind, have a bit of a chuckle and also keep our brain cells active and alert. Plus Richard Osman...swoon! (but, keep that between you and me).

Since starting The Adult Learning Hub, I feel as though I've been watching this show through a new lens. I can't help but see 3 important parallels between House of Games and what good adult education looks like in practice looks. Stay with me on this...

1. Different people, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, coming together for one shared purpose.

In adult education, this is similar to a community of practice, defined as 'a group of people who 'share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.' The celebrities Osman invites, participate in the quiz show for a consecutive 5 days and they range from sports heroes, to stand up comedians to tv stars. While their goal is obviously to win the infamous trophy at the end (or the coveted House of Games luggage or fondue set - I always want the fondue set), there is a shift that seems to happen as the game progresses.

Each day you see participants becoming more comfortable with each other; encouraging one another to take more risks; they seemingly grow more confident and agile in how quickly and skilfully they answer the questions; and even when they make a mistake or don't do as well at the end of a particular day, they are more willing to laugh at themselves or joke with one another (and the daily winner may even share their prize from the day with another contestant. I'm not sure I would share that fondue set with someone, but you get the point). Any initial nerves melt away as they interact throughout their time on the show. Towards the end, it's as if the game could keep going because of their shared comradery. It's brilliant to watch.

(Image: IMDB)

This kind of interaction would not just happen on a single day. It takes time. A sustained effort. And I imagine that participants must feel a deeper sense of intrinsic motivation to keep going (other than just a decent amount of air time). In the field of adult education, the best kind of shared endeavour happens when learners and educators have similar intentions, they pursue something together, they share their knowledge with one another. A South Korean study on 'An integrative model of knowledge sharing in communities of practice' is a good example of where we can see this in action as well. There is something wonderful that clearly happens in this kind of atmosphere.

2. The host is as much of a learner as the participants themselves.

There is nothing quite like watching Richard Osman in action. I love his dry and subtle sense of humour. His approach is also what sets him apart from his gameshow host peers. There is an element of humility about him, which is sometimes rare for those in the entertainment industry. He's seemingly not there to perform, but to get the best out of everyone one of his guests...and to go on a kind of journey with them. 

He sits in his red armchair, at a similar level as his participants, trying to figure the answers to the questions, while patiently waiting for them to do the same; he demonstrates a sense of curiosity towards their responses & what their thinking was and challenges them to think outside the box. He also encourages a kind of daily reflection, to allow guests to see how the previous day went, where they did well and where they didn't, but always somehow manages to find the silver lining for every person, ('Today is your day, I can feel it'). You see what I'm getting at here, right? 

When you read, 'Guidelines for working with adult learners, this is fairly consistent with what I'm seeing on Osman's show.

Osman seems to hold safety and challenge in skilful tension for his guests, which makes me reflect on the kind of experience we should be emphasising for those in our adult learning classrooms. Are we creating the right conditions for learners to collaborate and co-create together, where they feel safe, acknowledged and intellectually challenged at the same time? There might be some hidden lessons in Osman's approach here. Who knew!

(As I write this, I somehow can't stop thinking about that fondue set...)

3. Everyone has the opportunity to shine at some stage in the journey.

In adult education, there should be a combination of opportunities presented to learners where they can feel validated in some aspect. We should always be asking ourselves, how can we help our learners shine? This can be achieved through acknowledging their experience with the subject or helping learners feel understood in their approach to learning a new subject (like what Kolb speaks about for example), or even taking an interest in them as people, with diverse backgrounds and histories.

(Image: IMDB)

In House of Games, equally, participants can easily feel a sense of 'Ok, now is my moment.' The games presented test a wide variety of aspects like their music knowledge, history, geography, recall ability, creative thinking, numeracy, spelling - you name it, House of Games covers it. They also get to contribute their own material for the games themselves and try to fool their fellow contestants (and they get a point when they've succeeded). This is one of the many reasons I love this show...no matter what your skill level or experience, there is always some way to allow a participant to shine.

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And isn't that what it's all about? Helping our learners shine? And us as educators to enjoy the process of learning at the same time? Maybe we could all channel a bit more Richard Osman in our lives and in our classrooms.

Check out an episode hereEmail me or get in touch with me on LinkedIn to tell me what you think. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


The Adult Learning Hub is an app-based membership community, bringing together passionate adult educators and practitioners in academic settings, community contexts and corporate environments. Our purpose is to develop a more informed and flexible approach that meets the needs of diverse learners; to build on skills that allow us to remove barriers and facilitate meaningful learning, and proactively address workplace challenges as part of a supportive group of fellow educators, so that we can confidently navigate our rapidly evolving world of work and increase our impact for the learners we serve.

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