Sunday, 27 June 2010

Do we hate being taught?

Do we actually enjoy being taught things, or would it be more true to say that the enjoyment is in the learning as opposed to the being taught? Being taught something is often enjoyable but this enjoyment is most likely dependent upon at least two factors: our interest in the subject and the quality of the instruction in relation to our current abilities: an accommodation between the abilities and needs of the learner and the skills of the teacher.

Learning, on the other hand, is something we do all the time without even being aware of it. Learning comes naturally to us. This raises several questions: is it actually learning that we enjoy or instead the having learnt? If learning comes naturally and is often something that we don't even notice, might it be said that learning is something that we simply take for granted and what we actually enjoy is not the learning so much as the realisations and connections that come as a consequence of learning (and is that what learning actually is?), and the more profound these connections and realisations, the greater the pleasure gained and the sense of achievement? The enjoyment derives from the application of new knowledge and skill (or the future orientated projection of the possibilities which this new knowledge and understanding provides), not simply from its acquisition. It's a subtle distinction but an important one I think. It suggests that the value of learning is recognised exactly at the moment of acquisition as something which is future orientated.

We don't enjoy learning simply as a procedure but rather as the acquisition of competencies which promise to enable a richer and/or more fulfilling future. And this is why, when that future is unclear or somehow threatened, the potential pleasure of learning is diminished.

It's important to say here that I'm not discounting the value of the journey of learning. The processes and procedures of learning can be highly stimulating, but perhaps we need to distinguish between different kinds of stimulation in this instance. Learning is stimulating for the reasons I have already outlined but there are certainly other ways to stimulate people which are of lesser value in educational terms. Entertainment is a form of stimulation which may contain various quantities and qualities of educational substance depending on both the viewer and the material itself but it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to unravel these.

Might all this have any practical implications for us teachers? I think so. It asks us to reconsider how we conceive of participatory learning. Certainly we have to attempt to encourage as much participation as possible but we also need to ensure that this stimulation is appropriately challenging rather than simply entertaining. Furthermore we need to, wherever and however possible, clarify the future that any learning might be projected towards, because ultimately this what drives and inspires learning and finally we need to focus our attention, and that of our students, upon things that we believe have a genuine potential to function in and contribute to that future.


Tamsin said...

I really struggle with the idea of learning when it's used in an institutional context. Or, rather, I struggle with using the same word to talk about what we hope to stimulate in educational institution and what we do as easily as breathing in our embodied lives. For me the assessment changes everything. And then there's the issue of challenge that you mention - which seems to me a crucial responsibility, if you're a teacher. I'm not looking to make my students feel joyful, necessarily, or comfortable. Learning outside institutions, on the other hand, leads to all sorts of different places.
None of which really does justice to your thoughtful post...

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