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How to rekindle a love of learning in school

Author and professor Doug Thomas says relating to students on a personal level, asking questions are keys to reviving their passion for learning

How to rekindle a love of learning in school

“We don’t need to ‘make’ learning fun," said author Doug Thomas. "Learning is inherently fun. We just need to keep it that way.”

What would a high school classroom look like if the students were all like kindergartners, eagerly learning everything they could about the world? What makes this idea seem ludicrous—and why isn’t learning still like this in high schools today?

These questions were asked during the opening keynote session at the Consortium for School Networking’s annual Technology Leadership Conference, held in Washington, D.C. The theme of this year’s conference is “Re-imagine Learning,” and what better way to kick off the event than with Doug Thomas, co-author of the book A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change?

“There’s a new game being played in schools today, especially colleges, and it’s called, ‘What does the teacher want?’ [Students are] not there to learn and expand their minds; they just want to know how to please us to do well,” said Thomas, who is an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. “It’s not our schools that are broken; it’s the theory of learning that’s broken.”

According to Thomas, the current style of learning is too “binary”—learning is either fun, and therefore not serious, or vice versa. However, learning should aim to be both, he said.

“When you see a little child first start to explore the world, everything is interesting to them. There’s no limit to how learning is fun for them. Then, as they start to move to higher grades, you see that passion drain out of them,” he said.

“I once had a student who was trying to decide her thesis. She asked me what she should write about and, frankly, I was stunned. It’s not my thesis. So I asked her, ‘Well, what are you passionate about?’ She said, ‘I don’t know. No one’s ever asked me that.’ That means that in 15 years [of education], not one person bothered to ask her about her.”

Thomas explained that part of re-imagining learning involves simply knowing your students and who they are, so you can connect on their level. As an example, he cited the Harry Potter book series.

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Comments:

  1. Jonmadian

    March 12, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Yes, learning is fun if we have a purpose for focusing and then doing the work of learning, and if we see the “beauty” of the ideas. This means the things we are learning need to matter to us on many levels. That “mattering” can come from our relationship to the ideas and/or the community we share our learning with. It can also come from a teacher’s love for the students and the ideas she is introducing the student to. One great failure of public education k-college is far too much time is spent on what others deem as academically relevant and far too little time is spent on either what students want to learn or will be inspired by learning, or even on the ideas that teachers would love to explore with students. We have lost track of the importance of the beauty of ideas and how that beauty differs from one student or teacher to another. Until we are more concerned with the importance or purpose of ideas and their power and beauty for unique people, we will continue to fail to inspire learning.

  2. prichard

    March 22, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    So well stated by Jonmadian — thank you for reminding us about what is natural and effortless learning.