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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Annie Murphy Paul on Learning: Two New Posts by One of Our Favorites

From DeepakChopra.com

Six Ways To Get Motivated To Learn

By Guest Blogger Annie Murphy Paul
August 16, 2012

Maybe it's the August heat that's making us all droop, or maybe it's the looming start of school in September, but I've been fielding a lot of questions lately about motivation—how to get kids, or employees, or ourselves excited about learning. Fortunately, scientific research has provided us with a number of ways to get the learning juices flowing, none of which involve paying money for good grades.

1.) Fine-tune the challenge. We’re most motivated to learn when the task before us is matched to our level of skill: not so easy as to be boring, and not so hard as to be frustrating. Deliberately fashion the learning exercise so that you’re working at the very edge of your abilities, and keep upping the difficulty as you improve.

2.) Start with the question, not the answer. Memorizing information is boring. Discovering the solution to a puzzle is invigorating. Present material to be learned not as a fait accompli, but as a live question begging to be explored.

3.) Beat your personal best. Some learning tasks, like memorizing the multiplication table or a list of names or facts, are simply not interesting in themselves. Generate motivation by competing against yourself: run through the material once to establish a baseline, then keep track of how much you improve (in speed, in accuracy) each time.

4.) Connect abstract learning to concrete situations. Adopt the case-study method that has proven so effective for business, medical and law school students: apply abstract theories and concepts to a real-world scenario, using these formulations to analyze and make sense of situations involving real people and real stakes.

5.) Make it social. Put together a learning group, or find a learning partner, with whom you can share your moments of discovery and points of confusion. Divide the learning task into parts, and take turns being teacher and pupil. The simple act of explaining what you’re learning out loud will help you understand and remember it better.

6.) Go deep. Almost any subject is interesting once you get inside it. Assign yourself the task of becoming the world’s expert on one small aspect of the material you have to learn—then extend your new expertise outward by exploring how the piece you know so well connects to all the other pieces you need to know about.

Comments or questions? I'd love to hear from you. Email me at annie@anniemurphypaul.com. And, if you'd like to read even more about learning, visit my website, follow me on Twitter, and join the conversation on Facebook.


About Annie Murphy Paul

Annie Murphy Paul is an author, journalist and speaker who helps people understand how we learn and how we can do it better. A contributing writer for Time, she writes a weekly column about learning for Time.com.

She contributes to The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Slate, and O - The Oprah Magazine, among many other publications. She is the author of The Cult of Personalitya cultural history and scientific critique of personality tests, and of Origins, a book about the science of prenatal influences. Her new book, out in 2013, is Brilliant: The New Science of Smart.


Where’s the Joy in Learning?

By Annie Murphy Paul
August 17, 2012

A school is not a desert of emotions,” begins an article by Finnish educators Taina Rantala and Kaarina Määttä, published in the journal Early Child Development and Care. But you’d never know that by looking at the scientific literature.

“In the field of educational psychology, research on feelings is lacking,” the authors note, “and the little that does exist has focused more on negative rather than positive feelings.” Rantala, the principal of an elementary school in the city of Rovaniemi, and Määttä, a professor of psychology at the University of Lapland, set out to remedy this oversight by studying one emotion in particular: joy.

The researchers followed a single class through first and second grade, documenting the students’ emotions with photographs and videos. Through what they call “ethnographic observation,” Rantala and Määttä identified the circumstances that were most likely to produce joy in the classroom. No doubt many pupils would agree with this example of their findings: “The joy of learning does not include listening to prolonged speeches.”

“The joy of learning does not include listening to prolonged speeches.” 

Such teacher-centric lessons are much less likely to generate joy than are lessons focused on the student, the authors report. The latter kind of learning involves active, engaged effort on the part of the child; joy arrives when the child surmounts a series of difficulties to achieve a goal.

One of the authors’ videos shows seven-year-old Esko, tapping himself proudly on the chest and announcing, “Hey, I figured out how to do math!”

A desire to master the material leads to more joy than a desire to simply perform well, Rantala and Määttä add: joy often accompanies “the feeling of shining as an expert.”

Likewise, the joy of learning is more likely to make an appearance when teachers permit students to work at their own level and their own pace, avoiding making comparisons among students. The authors recommend that children be taught to evaluate and monitor their own learning so they can tell when they’re making progress.

Some pupils will take longer than others—as Rantala and Määttä write, “The joy of learning does not like to hurry.” Because joy is so often connected to finishing a task or solving a problem, they point out, allowing time for an activity to come to its natural conclusion is important.

Granting students a measure of freedom in how they learn also engenders joy. Such freedom doesn’t mean allowing children to do whatever they want, but giving them choices within limits set by a teacher. These choices need not be major ones, the authors note: “For us adults, it makes no difference whether we write on blue or red paper, but when a student can choose between these options, there will be a lot of joy in the air.”

Not surprisingly, play was a major source of joy in the classroom Rantala and Määttä observed (even when that play was not exactly what a teacher would wish: the researchers’ video camera caught one student fashioning a gun out of an environmental-studies handout). “Play is the child’s way of seeking pleasure,” the authors write, and it is a learning activity in itself; it shouldn’t be viewed as “a Trojan horse” in which to smuggle in academic lessons.

“Play is the child’s way of seeking pleasure, and it is a learning activity in itself; it shouldn’t be viewed as a 'Trojan Horse' in which to smuggle in academic lessons."

Lastly, sharing and collaborating with other students is a great source of joy. One of the authors’ videotapes shows a student reacting with pleasure when a classmate, Paavo, says, “You are so good at making those dolls!” The researchers conclude: “Joy experienced together, and shared, adds up to even more joy.”

Finland leads the world in its scores on international tests, and the country has become an educational model for many in the U.S. Rantala and Määttä’s paper is a welcome reminder that academic excellence can coexist with delight.

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