Thursday, May 17, 2012

Passion for learning

Learn by sabeth718, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  sabeth718

Why do so many people devote the majority of their non-working hours to hobbies, clubs, community work and so on with little or no financial reward and more often than not at a considerable cost? Kids who show little interest at school or adults who simply do their duty at work and seldom more can then go home to study complex problems, organize events, create works of art and so on.

It's all about a passion for learning that all of us have but that has been extinguished in so many. Some find rewarding jobs that stimulate this passion whereas others see work as simply a way of earning money to be able to do their "real" work. Work and school rely mostly on external motivation; salary, incentive schemes, grades, compulsory attendance etc. Hobbies and interests rely however on internal motivation where you simply love learning and working because it is meaningful to you. Internal motivation lies behind most of the great work done in the world. Organisations that succeed in harnessing employees' internal motivation will lead and those who rely on external motivation will lag behind and ultimately fail. The same is true of phenomena like crowd-sourcing. Internally motivated contributors built Wikipedia for free just as open source programmers created Linux.

External motivation does not seem to motivate, or at least not very much. We all need a salary but it's not enough to motivate people to be inventive. Could it be that external motivators in education like grading and standardised exams kill off the internal motivation that is essential for any real learning to take place? When you are learning because of the promise of good grades you learn to pass the test rather than learning for life. The product of the learning becomes the certificate not new knowledge and skill. Of course I generalize but it's a factor in explaining why learning in school is so often unconnected to learning outside school.

1 comment:

  1. I agree in large part. Learning has to be internally motivated if it is to be something valued and pursued over a lifetime. The real challenge is to find the spark that ignites that fire in each individual - and it will be different in each person.
    Some professions, at least in the U.S., are by their nature, motivated more internally than by external rewards. I am thinking of teaching - which is fairly low-paying in the US. Likewise, our Armed Forces are all-volunteer - and as we all know you'll never get rich being a soldier.