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Without Motivation, Learning is Dead

Funny thing about the process of learning - we do it naturally for many years and then, as we get older, it tapers off. For most of us, learning dies almost completely for us. Do I really mean we stop learning? Pretty much. Why is that? Because we’re not motivated to learn. It’s pretty simple: if you don’t care, you don’t learn. Anything. As we grow older, we learn less and less. We practice over and over the things we already have learned. As we become more and more calcified in our repetition of things we already know, we lose flexibility and become brittle when it comes to learning anything we didn’t already know. If you think I exaggerate, ask yourself: when was the last time you learned anything new? You really have to think because it’s probably been a long time! And if you’re totally honest with yourself, you actually avoid learning anything new. The reason you have been doing all the things you do and already know how to do is because learning is, well, hard. It makes us uncomfortable. Compare two stages of your life as it relates to learning: as a kid and as an adult. When you were a kid in school, you were in a position where an adult - a teacher - was in a position to coerce/cajole/convince you to learn. When you are an adult, you’re no longer placed in a environment (against you will?) and you don’t have to learn what you don’t already know. So you don’t. You just keep doing the same things you already know, over and over. Don’t feel bad: almost every adult is the same. But what happens when you are compelled to learn something new, for example, for your job? That’s another story, isn’t it? Let’s look at what happens when someone who doesn’t really want to learn anything (because, remember, learning can be hard) finds themselves in a situation when they really feel forced to learn - but have no genuine interest in the subject. That person tries to get out of learning. He/She breaks into a sweat, blood pressure rises and mood darkens. There is a physical reaction caused by the stress of being placed, again, in an environment where leaning is forced. She/He is, as they say in the education business, reluctant to learn, i.e., that person is dubbed a “reluctant learner”. So what the heck is a “reluctant learner”?


A generation ago, the term “reluctant learner” was used for many of our students who just “didn’t get” what we were teaching them. A lot of teachers still use it. These were the students who were disinterested or a pain in the butt, the ones that annoyed teachers, and made teachers wish they had chosen another profession. The reluctant learner often reacts to the stress of being forced o learn by becoming irritable, unpleasant and angry. Professional educators were cynical with this term and would call themselves a “reluctant learner” when an outsider tried to teach them something new and they were unmotivated or disinterested. As a school principal for 20 years. I would tell my teachers that, even though I was certified to teach only four different subjects, I could teach anything for at least 30 minutes - and not have any reluctant learners in the class. Since I have a broad background of life experience to draw from and my teachers all knew this, they were hesitant to dismiss my braggadoccio. And, since as principal I was expected to be in all classes, I often had the opportunity to teach anyway. Word quickly spread: this guy really can teach anything because he finds a way to motivate the students to learn whatever he is teaching. Sometimes he chance to teach it would happen spontaneously when I was in their class, and sometimes my lesson was pre-arranged. Faculty meetings are teaching/learning opportunities, so I worked hard to make hem engaging and interesting. They saw I could make even the most boring district or state initiative seem worth learning. Now, I am not a genius. However, I have figured out how to motivate the learner because I have learned how to make anything seem exciting, relevant, and appealing. And that’s the key: everything we teach anyone must have all three of these traits: Exciting People are not motivated to learn something they don’t already know - unless the people trying to teach them are excited themselves about whatever they are teaching. Teachers, even if you have to fake it, appear on fire about the topic! Use some props, theater, drama - because people are always drawn to know more from someone who has a passion for something. If you don’t, they won’t.


Relevant We are not motivated to learn anything unless we see that it is in some way meaningful and relevant to us. How does this affect me? If there is no effect in my life if I don’t learn whatever your teaching, then I am not motivated. So how do you make what you teach relevant to the learners you’re teaching? Know your learners. To know your learners, you have to develop relationships with them enough to know four things: (1) What they like (2) What they don’t like (3) Their greatest triumph (4) Their most crushing defeat

When you know these four things, you will find making anything relevant much easier. Appealing

Mary Poppins advised “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” - and it also makes learning easier. If you know your learners (see #2), you will know what they find appealing, repugnant, bizarre, and so forth - and can therefore exploit that knowledge to intrigue them. A clear example of this is from an episode of The Andy Griffith Show entitled “Andy Discovers America”. Son Opie is totally opposed to learning history at school because it’s boring. His teacher, Miss Crump, has not made history exciting, relevant, nor appealing. When Andy tells his son that he wasn’t good at history either, Opie now has an excuse to ignore this subject. Andy is criticized severely by the teacher when she learns of this. The next day Opie and his pals come by Andy’s office to triumphantly announce the teacher may quit because they are reluctant learners. To redeem himself, Andy, knowing the boys, intrigues them and tells a history story that is exciting, relevant and appealing. Their curiosity is spiked and they are drawn in completely to the point that they can’t wait to learn more history. Doing a complete 180, they form history club called “The Mayberry Minutemen”. Miss Crump stops by the next day, bewildered by the sudden turnaround. Andy tells her he “just put a little extra jam on the bread”. So take a lesson from Andy. Put a little extra jam on the bread. Without it, motivation to learn may never take place. And learning will surely remain dead! ©️Copyright by David Samore. Excerpts in part or whole may not be used without the expressed permission of David Samore.

Put a little jam on the bread!

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