Entertainment Education

Entertainment Education (EE) involves the process of purposively designing and implementing a media message through a means in which the audience is both entertained and educated, in order to increase audience members’ knowledge about an educational issue, create favorable attitudes towards an issue, and change behavior (Singhal & Rogers, 1999). It is a communications strategy; not a theory of communication. Its general purpose is to contribute to the process of directed social change, which can occur at a number of levels (individual, community, society).

The use of EE has been in a number of areas including health-related issues such as blood-pressure, family planning, smoking, vaccine promotion, and HIV/AIDS prevention. It is also becoming increasingly applied in other areas such as environment, rural development, and conflict resolution and peace building (Skeie, 2004).

EE interventions have varied widely in terms of the extent to which they use formative research; integrate human communications theories into message design; and in the intensity and ability to deliver dose effects (in which greater audience exposure to the intervention leads to stronger effects). Additionally, EE interventions have taken a variety of forms, from long-running series to a single episode of a popular prime-time series.

History of Entertainment Education

The roots of EE can be traced to development communications interventions in developing countries that took the form of radio and television soap operas, which dealth with a variety of health-related topics. One of the first modern examples of EE is the BBC Radio production, The Archers, which in 1951 was used to communicate important information to farmers in England until it became more of a conventional radio soap opera by 1971. It was around this time however that EE began to gain some theoretical foundation. Social marketing is one of the key origins of today’s EE strategies.

First Generation of Entertainment Education

Between 1975 and 1985, Mexican Miguel Sabido heavily promoted the use of Television fiction for pro-social behavior change through the production and promotion of numerous telenovelas (soap operas) that contained social messages. This initial generation of interventions integrated a social marketing approach with the intent of providing information to recipients with the end goal of positively changing social behavior.

Second Generation of Entertainment Education

The next generation of EE interventions developed with the growing recognition that marketing of individual behavior change often was limited to development in one specific target area. A growing recognition of the underlying social complexity behind many of these issues compelled a reformulation in the general approach to development communications and it resulted first and foremost in the introduction of more participatory approaches. From its inception, EE has contained a focus on change on the individual level but the second generation saw an increasing acknowledgment of the importance to have an impact on the structural level.

Soul City: A Second Generation EE Initiative

Soul City was pioneered by two medical doctors who had been working in South Africa and realized the need to disseminate basic health training and knowledge on issues like childcare, contraception, and HIV. Garth Japhet, one of the founders of Soul City argues presents the guiding strategy as edutainment: a cyclical communications strategy that places a premium on formative research that seeks to position the audience members as key agents of change. In this cycle, there are two key inputs:

  • Formative research – audience and expert centered research process
  • Partnerships established with civil society, govermnets, private sector, etc.

And two key outputs:

  • Direct Output – Changes in knowledge, attitudes, practices, and development of a social environment favorable to these changes;
  • Development of potential opportunities – Educational packages, advocacy, brand.

Third Generation EE

The third generation of EE is driven by the recognition that social issues are not necessarily caused by information deficits but in power imbalances, structural inequalities, and deeper societal problems. Empowerment, the reinforcing of people’s ability to identify and deal with problems that arise, is the key concept in the third generation of EE. CFSC is emerging as the key strategy in the third generation of EE.

Strengths of Entertainment Education

  • Connects with the everyday lives of people.
  • Can reach large audiences.
  • The genre has a well documented ability to articulate debate.

Theoretical Basis for Entertainment Education

The dominant theoretical basis in EE is social learning theory. There have been a number of other theories that have been useful in helping shape the strategy:

  • Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) (Slater and Rouner) – The ELM is based on the idea that attitudes are important because attitudes guide decisions and other behaviors. While attitudes can result from a number of things, persuasion is a primary source. The model features two routes of persuasive influence: central and peripheral. The ELM accounts for the differences in persuasive impact produced by arguments that contain ample information and cogent reasons as compared to messages that rely on simplistic associations of negative and positive attributes to some object, action or situation. The key variable in this process is involvement, the extent to which an individual is willing and able to ‘think’ about the position advocated and it’s supporting materials. When people are motivated and able to think about the content of the message, elaboration is high. Elaboration involves cognitive processes such as evaluation, recall, critical judgment, and inferential judgment. When elaboration is high, the central persuasive route is likely to occur; conversely, the peripheral route is the likely result of low elaboration. Persuasion may also occur with low elaboration. The receiver is not guided by his or her assessment of the message, as in the case of the central route, but the receiver decides to follow a principle or a decision-rule which is derived from the persuasion situation.
  • Audience Involvement (Sood) - According to Sood, audience involvement is understood as the degree to which an individual actively participates in decoding a media message. It is a complex theoretical construct, but simply defined as “the degree to which audience members engage in reflection upon, and parasocial interaction with, certain media programs, thus resulting in overt behavior change.”

Key Contributions

  • Miugel Sabido – Beween 1975 and 1985, Sabido produced seven soap operas with built-in social messages. They were broadcast through Mexico’s largest television network, and were large audience successes in countries all over the world.

References

Singhal, A & Rogers, E (2002), ‘A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment Education’, in Communication Theory, volume 12, number 2, pp. 117-135.