Through the years of working with learning games and discussing with educators, we have ended up with three main theses about learning.
Learning is not a boring, gruesome task that must be gamified or funified to make it more palatable. Learning, when it happens, is one of the most amazing experiences we can have as human beings. Learning is a wonderful experience, but the challenge is that often we approach learning the wrong way, assuming boredom and frustration belong in the learning process. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Boredom and frustration are the antitheses to flow, and if we want to learn efficiently, we need precisely to flow; to be challenged enough to be interested but not too much to become anxious. Whenever learning happens, it is fun in the sense that it stems from flow and from us being able to challenge ourselves and grow.
The easiest way to engender the love of learning is to stoke the love towards a topic. If you love to learn about a new topic, no further motivation is needed. Also having enough autonomy in how you learn goes a long way to spark the love of learning. If you rather listen to audiobooks while jogging, a thousand-page brick of a book might not motivate you – whereas exactly the same book might be a thrill to listen to while punching in your daily miles.
Learning, when it happens, is amazing. But learning also takes always a lot of work. According to research by Anders Ericsson, mastering a new skill takes north of 10 000 hours of deliberate practice. That means that you have to have a focused practice method, often with a great teacher, to become really good at something.
While less than 10 000 hours is enough for most of our skills, learning always requires a lot of work, and often a lot of effort. To this end it is super important to structure learning so that you learn things that matter to you and so that you feel a constant sense of progress in learning. If you start at an easy enough level and keep on progressing gradually, even the longest streak of hard work won’t really feel like work. But if you take up too much to begin with, you will struggle learning any skill.
Learning takes a lot of work, but when you keep on learning, it’s some of the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.
A few years ago the Mexican teacher Sergio Juarez Correa got frustrated by not making progress with his class. A teacher in a very poor area in the city of Matamoros, Juarez Correa had learned about Sugata Mitra’s ideas of self-organization. He decided to put these to use. Instead of teaching the class, Juarez Correa would give them problems to solve – and sometimes leave the classroom altogether. Eventually when the class was tested in the national exams, the formerly bottom class performers had soared to the top. One girl, Paloma, scored as the best in her age group in whole of Mexico.
There are no stupid people. There are simply people who already know something – and people who don’t yet know. Learning is the bridge from not knowing to knowing. Everyone can learn and everyone can grow, if they find the sweet spot that is best suited for themselves. But if learning is pushed on people so they get bored or frustrated, people won’t learn, and in the worst case they will learn to think of themselves as stupid.
It is an ontological fact – a fact concerning what there is – that there are no such things as stupid people. What may appear as stupidity is simply not having learned yet. And by starting easy and steadily increasing the challenge, everyone can learn and experience the fun of learning.