Adults increasingly turn to learning for leisure

'They're looking for experiences that can permanently change themselves'

As the American public becomes more educated, organizations are cashing in on an explosion of demand for "edutainment," Greg Beato reports for the New York Times.

The term edutainment refers to media that combine education and entertainment, making learning a fun way to unwind. Participants usually receive no credits.

"Call it the academization of leisure," writes Beato, spotlighting on-demand college lectures, podcasts, brain games, TED Talks, and learning vacations as examples.

"The living room couch in front of the television now functions as a site for in-depth learning," he writes.

Where is this demand coming from? One theory is that people are seeking professional development that will help them stand out among a more-educated workforce. Out of U.S. citizens 25 or older, 87% had a high school diploma and 30% had at least a bachelor's degree in 2009—compared with just 25% and 5% respectively in 1940, according to the census.

"In the fast-paced knowledge economy, lifelong earning requires lifelong learning," says Beato.

And companies are filling that business void. Combined, the Smithsonian Institution and National Geographic run about 200 learning vacations annually—offering travelers field instruction from experts ranging from volcanologists to art historians. Learning websites such as,, and all offer courses on a wide range of topics.

"I think like everyone else, we're looking for new opportunities that bring in revenue and keep in line with our mission," says Linda St. Thomas, spokesperson for the Smithsonian.

Great Courses, a company that provides 12 to 24 hours of audio or video recordings of lectures, is set to release 550 hours of content in the next year. The video versions sell for up to $799.95. 

"The most educated have the least amount of time," says Randy White, CEO of White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group, which develops centers combining learning and entertainment. "When they spend their leisure time, they want it as productive and high quality as possible. They're looking for experiences that can permanently change themselves... They don't want to waste their leisure time," he says (Beaton, New York Times, 3/19; The Great Courses, accessed 3/23).

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