Sunday, April 13, 2014

Learning Is for Doing

I love learning, at least most of the time. I spent 18 years of my career as an educator hoping to make my high school students love learning. 

Now I've given up on that goal. 

I had to admit something that, for a long time, I didn't want to admit. For most people, even those who are very successful by common measures, they do not primarily love learning. They love doing.

That is, there is something they love doing and in order to do it more often or to do it better, they willingly take on the work of learning. 

I finally admitted this and gave up my "do it for the love of learning" battle cry when I was preparing a PD session on project based learning. The moment of truth was when I realized most of my personal learning, across many areas, stemmed not from a desire for new knowledge, but because I was trying to do something that was important to me. 

Sure, I generally liked the learning. I found it rewarding, but that in itself was not my goal. Furthermore, some of the hardest, most important lessons were the ones I dreaded the most (like everything I learned from sticking with a job that frustrated me for 14 long years).

Now lest I sound heretical as an educator saying I don't care about fostering a love of learning, let me point out that learning is, itself, doing. It can be the very "doing" that provides the reward. I think that is true of almost all young children as they set out and discover a world filled with new things. That's great and I don't want to take that away. 

But can we admit for most people that isn't enough? At some point, for a thousand different reasons, most people grow tired of learning just to learn.

In fact, I've come to appreciate the vast number of things we as humans can find to do passionately. And as such, each is potentially a huge opportunity for learning. 

So in the end I have this: My job as a teacher is not to make all my students fall in love with learning. It is to find what they love (possibly by helping them find it first) and then design important learning experiences around those passions. There is nothing easy about this. In fact, with some important skills it might be impossible to link it to a narrow interest a particular student might have.

I've found it to be an exciting challenge, though, and early signs of success have been inspiring!

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