the Anticipation of Pleasure in Learning.
The 3rd key to learning.
What is key in learning? This is the third of a
number of keys that are meant to bring understanding, about what
learning is, and how leaning can be improved by understanding the
message of those keys. This key is about taking advantage of interest.
Interest is the most essential ingredient in the desire to learn. It is
also that ingredient which makes learning most enjoyable and effortless.
"Snowflakes are one of nature's most
fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick
together." Vista M. Kelly
"Each day can be one of triumph if you
keep up your interests." George Matthew Adams
The conflicting primitive desires.
fact is that initial interest, and thus motivation to learn, is governed
primitive primitive desires or motivators.
One primitive drive is the
fact that we are drawn to the unusual, the unique and the strange by
our curiosity. When we have no previous experience with a thing only
curiosity is able to drive us to explore it. Without curiosity learning
and interest could never even get started.
Fear of the unknown.
The other primitive drive is fear of the unknown. We are
afraid of what is not known and repelled by the
strange and weird. There is good and sufficient reason that we should
be afraid of the previously unexperienced as in primitive times
anything unknown was possibly life threatening or painful. To get us
started on the road to interest we must first overcome this fear of the
unusual and the only tool we have to help us do so is curiosity.
However as we are exposed to new and novel things more and more and
become more and more familiar, (as we are able to learn about them), we
lose our fear of them. At the same time because we are learning about
those new and novel things we are also building associations of
with those new things. This subsiding of fear and increasing pleasure
associations enable us to gradually build interest.
interest is very specific but gradually we generalize it to ever less
similar things till it finally flowers into interest in whole subjects
or domains of knowledge.
as we are exposed to many of these things our ability to
further about them may come to an end. After this happens each
subsequent exposure to the thing is felt as an increasingly uncomfortable
sensation that has an adverse affect on the brain.
The brain may try to
shut down (go to sleep) or begin to build adverse associations with the
very thing that was previously an object of interest. In other words we
become bored. With each subsequent exposure, with each overly repeated
experience our feelings revert from the pleasantly familiar to the
unpleasantly overfamiliarity of aversion and boredom.
Even though we are
drawn to the unusual, the unique and the strange by our
curiosity we are also repelled by them. At the same time we have a fear
of the unknown
motivates us to avoid the very new, the strange, the not previously
experienced, or the unknown. We are attracted then to things or subject
matter that lies in a sweet spot somewhere between being familiar and
being strange. This sweet spot is where the beginnings of interest can
follow a bell curve?
who study trends, fads and new things in vogue believe all these follow
a bell curve of popularity. They start unpopular they build
peak as they become more and more familiar through exposure and they
then begin to drop off as they become more and more overly
familiar. There is a curve that curiosity does seem to follow
it is a bell
curve. It is the
Gannett invented this idea in his book of the same name which he
to creativity. This site takes the position that this curve is more
applicable to curiosity than it is to creativity. Having said that this
is applicable does not mean that curiosity actually follows this bell
would happen with all curious exploration if curiosity was truly like
popularity and fashion and was acting alone, but it is not.
Interest comes to the rescue and causes us to generalize our pleasure
from learning about, whatever engaged our curiosity, to other similar
bits of potential knowledge and thus motivates us to learn it. It can
happen that we do lose interest but normally and ideally we do not.
Ideally the curve just keeps going up with small plateaus as each
individual item peeks.
of pleasure as interest.
Interest is not governed by
just by this push pull of familiarity with
Interest is mostly governed by the amount of pleasure we experience when
learning. This should work very well as all learning is intrinsically
pleasurable. When we learn we associate the pleasure we gain
from learning initially
the very specific subject matter that we were learning at the
leads us to anticipate pleasure in
learning this specific subject matter because in the past we have
experienced pleasure while
learning it or something similar to it. Thus we are motivated to learn
more of the same guided by
this anticipation of pleasure. In other words any sort of
can be thought of as positive reinforcement because reward is
intrinsically embedded in all learning.
as explained previously the subject matter of interest is not something
that can be
nailed down. It starts out a very specific interest in a few
is then increasingly expanded by being generalized to similar
It should and often does spread like an infection. With each exposure
pleasure should gradually generalize to increasingly less similar
objects/data until, only much later, is it finally generalized to
Exposure fails to generate boredom because interest is transfered to
similar objects and data that allow interest to grow exponentially and
over shadow any displeasure associated with the objects/data from
overfamiliarity. Ultimately it should spread even beyond the initial
study into other similar fields of study.
of displeasure as uninterest.
we also learn things, or try to, while
experiencing displeasure or pain. This is not just the kind of
displeasure generated by over exposure and over familiarity. It turns
out that there are many ways to build up unpleasant associations with
learning and unfortunately many of them occur in most learning
situations and especially in schools. This can have many
unfortunate effects on learning as a whole and can be responsible for
interest growth or even causing negative interest or actual avoidance
of the subject matter.
is fragile when it first appears, and can
come and go quickly. Maria Montessori made popular the idea
children went through
periods when they were more disposed to learn than at other times, and
that anything that interfered at those times was bad, and any help that
could be given at those times was good. In this she was probably
correct, though maybe not necessarily as usually interpreted as being
linked to some specific time period in the child's life. What happens
is, that from minute to minute, from second to second, people
interested in things. The experiencing of pain or displeasure during
these fagile moments of fledgling interest can crush them before they
any growth can take place.
These initial interests are
light or very weak
motivations but they are motivations. They are the anticipation of
pleasure based on previous experience of pleasure derived from learning
something vaguely similar. It is the vagueness of this similarity that
makes it weak in motivating. The variables that determine the strength
of the new motivation are the amount of similarity to the previous type
of learning, and the strength of the pleasure cased by the previous
interests are extremely fragile interests. If they are discouraged in
any way they will be lost, sometimes forever. So learners,
teachers must be careful not to discourage these glimmers of interest.
Indeed they must take advantage of this flickering interest while it is
there. They should encourage it and fan it into life.
as we build up more and more examples of this subject matter
pleasurable our interest becomes stronger and stronger and we are
less likely to to be deterred from learning it. Still at the beginning
interest in anything is very weak indeed. It
also a great pity that schools,
the very places where we are supposed to learn copiously and most
effectively, are often places where we become uninterested in things
rather than interested. This is mostly because threat,
and coercion is used often and abundantly in schools to motivate.
Also because schools, for the most part, give no thought to developing
or promoting either curiosity or interest, nor do they even try to make
sure learning is an enjoyable experience.
Einstein said it as clearly as anyone can: "It is nothing
short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet
entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry, for this delicate
little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom;
without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave
mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be
promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty..."
"No use to
shout at them to pay attention. If the situations, the materials, the
problems before the child do not interest him, his attention will slip
off to what does interest him, and no amount of exhortation of threats
will bring it back." John Holt
Motivation and demotivation.
When interest is there we are highly motivated to
learn, and so of course learn quickly and well. When we are
uninterested we learn badly if at all. However, the pleasures
and pain (displeasures) we
anticipate, do not occur in isolation one at a time. For any one event
or action maybe thousands of pleasures and pains may be anticipated
both consciously and unconsciously. This is because, when we do
something or something occurs, any number of pleasures and pains may be
acting on us.
Many pleasures may be gained from learning
There is the pleasure we gain just from learning itself, the pleasure
we get from knowing we have done something well or worthwhile, of using
our body well or actualizing our potential. These are all intrinsic
rewards or pleasures to be anticipated, but there are more concrete or
intrinsic pleasures that come from satisfying more basic needs. A
single bit of learning may satisfy needs at every level of Maslow's
hierarchy. A single bit of learning may make the world more
predictable. It may enable us to provide food or shelter for ourselves.
It may make us feel safer. It may cause others to love or like us. And
it may cause others to hold us in high esteem. Even the most
introspective person will never be able to determine all that he is
anticipating at any one moment, so certainly nobody else ever could
conceive of what of what that person is anticipating at any moment.
rewards are rewards that come from pleasurable feelings produced by our
actions which allows us to say that those actions are their own
reward. Feelings such as understanding, knowing, mastery
accomplishment, achievement, fulfillment, competence, proficiency,
progression, meaning, autonomy, virtue and worthiness are meta
motivators and they are very pleasurable feelings.
The effect of these feelings on children
is at first very ephemeral. They
hardly compare with the satisfaction of basic needs. But basic
needs also provide intrinsic rewards, which young children would
normally still not be confident of satisfying themselves. Even these
needs too then, at first are weak motivators, because of children's
inability to know how to satisfy them. However, as children do learn
how to satisfy these needs and are thus exposed to the full pleasure
that comes from these intrinsic feelings they can become very strong
Extrinsic rewards as fledgling
Extrinsic rewards are the application of of
rewards by others with the purpose of controlling or manipulating those
so rewarded. These external rewards usually seek to
satisfy, particularly basic needs, and can overwhelm the delicate
of situational interest created by initial weak intrinsic
motives. This has been born out in the research of Lepper,
Ryan, Amibile and many others. On the other hand if these delicate
interests are allowed to flower, to become strong individual interests
they will lead to many more situations of interest, which they
may grow into strong individual interests.
by reward. It has been said that
extrinsic rewards in many ways act as punishments rather than rewards
and for this reason are particularly destructive to interest. A thorny
stick is hidden within the carrot.
several ways in which extrinsic rewards become or act as punishments.
displacing intrinsic interest. Interest in learning can be
displaced by interest solely in getting an extrinsic reward. Being
stronger than intrinsic
rewards, extrinsic rewards tend to overwhelm and replace those
intrinsic rewards. It might seem like an extrinsic reward should simply
add to the existing intrinsic rewards making the activity of learning
even more enjoyable, but this is not what happens. Instead the
extrinsic rewards seem to convince the learner that they are
learning exclusively in order to get the extrinsic reward. The pleasure
of learning about that particular subject matter is simply lost in the
substitution for intrinsic interest. How are you doing?
Parents ask it of students and students ask it of themselves. But what
it means is where do you stand in relation to your peers. Students are
likely to become too concerned with their rank or status in the school
or class rather being interested in learning about specific subject
matter. Ranking, grading, standing, even
acknowledgment or praise can all become extrinsic rewards which are
substituted for and worked for instead of interest. Learners can find
themselves desiring and lusting after praise and status rather than
being lured by the pleasure of learning things they are interested in.
feelings about previous interests.
Extrinsic rewards can produce feelings of being controlled or
manipulated. The work of Piaget suggests that both punishment and
negative feelings about rewards lead to three possible outcomes:
'calculation of risks' (which means learners spend their time figuring
out whether they can get away with something), 'blind conformity'
(which means learners simply comply to whatever they are told to do) or
'revolt' (which means that learners are angry and likely to do the
opposite of what is being required of them). In all three cases the
negative feelings of resentment and lack of control underlie these
three conditions. These negative feelings thus become
associated with the things the learners were previously
interested in and greatly dampen their effect.
trust in others, ourselves and intrinsic interest. Rewards
divide us. They set us up to compete with one another for those very
rewards. They turn our friends into rivals. They force us to forgo our
natural inclination of imparting our knowledge to our peers and in
return receiving their knowledge and instead make us
untrusting of those peers. Indeed extrinsic rewards do not make us
moral but rather lure us to be untrustworthy. When getting an extrinsic
reward is all that matters why not cheat? Extrinsic rewards kill trust
not only in others and ourselves but the self imposed isolation we
experience is associated with the very subjects that once interested us
making them far less interesting. Extrinsic rewards shrink our main
source of knowledge while simultaneously making that knowledge less
risk taking and creativity for exact reproduction.
Although creativity is rewarded by intrinsic rewards it cannot be
successfully rewarded extrinsically. Indeed it has been shown by Amible
and others that extrinsic rewards have a negative effect on creativity.
The reason for this is that creativity is tied by its very nature to
variation and novelty. It is tied to the production of actions not
previously experienced or performed. On the other hand extrinsic
rewards abjure variation and newness and they tend to be conditional on
an intended outcome. Extrinsic rewards endeavor to create habits. Their
evolutionary function is to find single perfect actions that can be
produced automatically without thought to extract us from dangers.
Extrinsic rewards then cause actions to converge on an exact
reproduction of what is required to get the reward. Risk taking,
variation and creativity tend to be suppressed so
that requirements can
be met and thus rewards can be obtained.
being rewarded punishes intrinsic
When some learners are rewarded and some are not rewarded, those who
are not rewarded feel something that is indistinguishable from
punishment. Indeed it functions exactly the same as a well known
behaviorist concept that of negative punishment. Negative punishment
occurs when a pleasurable possibility exists and is withdrawn so that
the learner never receives it. This is exactly what is perceived when a
reward is held out but only given to one or a few. Educators may try to
explain to learners
that this is not meant to be experienced as a punishment but
unfortunately it creates exactly the same feelings as punishment.
If it looks like a punishment and feels like a punishment it
probably usually going to be mistaken for a punishment even if that was
not the intention.
punishment of intrinsic interest.
So any reward that is
withdrawn is automatically
converted into a punishment. As external or extrinsic rewards rely
on someone other than the person receiving the reward at some
point they will end. All extrinsic rewards have
come to an end. This is because the person producing the extrinsic
reward no longer has a reason to produce it. When a learner leaves a
school or finishes a class the extrinsic rewards may stop. When a
learner enters the work force the extrinsic rewards may stop.
that point on the learner will experience the learning (and thus
interest) as being punished because the extrinsic reward is being
withheld or withdrawn. This being the case learning will probably stop
and interest will be increasingly diminished.
ways and reasons parents and teachers can crush fledgling interests.
Of course children can be dissuaded or
diverted from being interested in new subjects in many ways. Parents
often see new interests as distractions for children that seem to
their minds while they should be learning something else. They try to
prevent this new interest from flourishing because it seems to them to
be preventing the children learning other things they believe more
important. Other reasons parents and teachers have for suppressing new
interests are there is not enough time, not enough resources, and of
course for teachers there is the importance of a curriculum which must
be fully covered.
and teachers can often enable children to flourish by simply getting
out of the way.
Part of what is needed to help children to
maintain and flourish in their beginning fragile interests is simply a
matter of parents and teachers getting out of the way and letting the
children get on with it. John Holt in his book 'How Children Learn'
gives many examples of this growth in interests. This process takes
place in unique environments where learning through interests is
possible because adults do not try to prevent it. Here is one of those
environments described by John Holt:
social-studies teachers asked me once, at a meeting, how students might
explore and learn independently in their field. For part of an answer,
I told a few stories. The first is about a seven year old boy. One day
he saw, and read I think in a National Geographic, an article on
underwater swimming. Like most kids, he was interested in the scuba
equipment, and even more in the varied and colorful fish the divers
were seeing and catching, in the whole idea of an underwater world with
a life of its own. Excited he talked to his mother about the article.
Soon after she found him another article about divers. This time,
however, they were not diving for fish, but for treasure - vases,
bowls, implements, and weapons lying deep in the hold of a ship that
three thousand years before had sunk in the Mediterranean. Everything
about this story fascinated the boy, above all the idea that these
strange and beautiful objects had been lying there, unknown and
forgotten for so long.
became interested in the Pre-Homeric
civilization of Crete and Mycenae that had made these treasures.
Helpful adults found him some books about them, which he read. In them
mention was made of Homer, and the Trojan War, so he read some abridged
versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Somewhere in his reading about
Troy, he read about the seven cities of Troy, and about Schliemann, the
archaeologist who dug them up. He was fascinated with the idea that a
city might simply disappear under the ground, and another city be built
right on top of it, and so seven times over; he was equally fascinated
with the idea of patiently bringing those buried cities into the light
again. This mad him want to find out as much as he could about
archeology. When I last heard of him, he was reading everything on the
subject that he could get his hands on."
THAT ONE THING.
Finding the one thing learners are
It is, however, often not enough for parents or
to just get out of the way. Sometimes interests need to be encouraged.
This is especially true of the one subject that that a child is most
interested in. The book "The Spark" by Kristine Barnett is a kind
manual or a love letter on how to encourage what a child most likes to
do or learn about. "The Spark" is a remarkable book overflowing with
examples of how to do just that.
"The Spark" is about a young mother
running a daycare center and a charity called 'Little Light"
for helping children who suffer
from autism. During the day she looked after other peoples children but
at night she provided a place of special care for autistic children.
Part of the reason she did this was she also had an autistic son. The
important message of the book is Barnett's belief in encouraging
whatever any child might be good at or interested in. How she
discovered that her autistic son was also a genius is a good example of
encouraging such interests. Here is her account from the book:
after we pulled him out of special ed, it became clear that Jake's
particular passion had to do with astronomy and the stars. By age
he could name every constellation and asterism in the sky...
we started Little Light, Jake became preoccupied with a college-level
astronomy textbook someone had left unshelved on the floor at the
Barnes & Noble near our house. The book was huge for such a
little boy, but he dragged the huge cover open and sat absorbed in it
for more than an hour.
certainly not a book for a three-year-old. Taking a peek over his
shoulder, I was put off by the minuscule text and arcane content. Most
of the pages were taken up by maps of different parts of the solar
system. There was no narrative at all - no retelling of the Greek myths
that gave the constellations their names, not even any scientific
explanations - just maps. My eyes glazed over as I flipped through it.
What did Jake want with this book?
But when it
came time to leave, there was simply no separating boy and book. I
put it back where it belonged and take Jake's hand to leave and he
would break away from me and make a beeline right back to it. After a
few go rounds, I could see we weren't going anywhere unless that book
came with us. I heaved the gigantic thing into my arms, took his hand,
and got into line. At least it was heavily discounted.
complete surprise, that cumbersome book became Jake's constant
companion. Its heft meant that his only way of transporting it around
the house was to open the cover and drag it with both hands. After a
while, it got so beat-up that Michael
spine with duct tape. Every time I looked through it, I couldn't
believe that this highly technical manual, clearly intended for
advanced astronomy students, could possibly be of interest to my little
it was, and it turned out to be an in. I always felt a little bit like
a detective at Little Light. Whatever the children loved would set us
to following the breadcrumb trail, finding out bit by bit who they
really were. I knew Jake's fascination with this book, as impenetrable
as it might have been, was an important clue. So when I saw in the
paper that the Holcomb Observatory, a planetarium near our house on the
campus of Butler University, would be doing a special program on Mars,
I asked Jake if he'd like to go see Mars through a telescope. You would
have thought I'd asked him if he wanted ice cream for breakfast lunch
and dinner. He pestered me so much that I thought the day would never
lobby was spectacular, but almost instantly I wished we were back
outside. I'd thought we'd be able to zip in to get a quick look through
the telescope without disturbing anyone, but I discovered that to look
through the telescope, we'd have to take a tour of the planetarium.
Worse still, as I learned after we'd already waited in line
bought tickets, the tour included an hour-long, college-level
presentation in a silent crowded auditorium was not at all what I'd had
in mind, and it was the last place on earth anyone in her right mind
would voluntarily take an autistic three-year-old.
I'd promised , and Jake was sure jazzed to be there. I told him I'd
made a mistake. I explained about the tour and the lecture and asked
him if he would rather go get a pizza instead. But he was adamant; he
wanted to stay. While we were waiting for the show to start, he took me
by the hand up the curving metal stairs, along which hung enormous
photographs of deep space. For half an hour, he dragged up and down
those stairs, chattering at me while I scrambled after him...
as I was... it sounded to me as if Jake was giving a convincing lecture
on each photo. He was rattling off terms and language unfamiliar to me,
and while I couldn't tell if he was making the stuff up or imitating
someone., it sounded pretty impressive.
the doors to the lecture hall opened, and the crowd filed in. As soon
as we got inside, I thought, O boy, this whole thing is about to go
bad. The room was small and hushed; a Power Point presentation was
ready to go. The first slide had to do with nineteenth-century
telescope resolution. The only seats left were right up front.
started digging through my bag, desperate to find something - animal
crackers? a crayon? some gum? - that might stave off a complete
meltdown. By the time the lecturer stepped up to the podium I was in a
near panic, and it only got worse. As the slides started clicking by,
Jake began reading quite loudly, some of the words popping up on the
screen: "Light year!" "Diurnal!" "Mariner!"
shushed him, sure the people around us were going to give me the stink
eye, hissing at me to get my kid out of this place we clearly had no
business inhabiting. Sure enough, people around us were starting to
notice, and to whisper, but it soon became clear that they weren't so
much annoyed as they were amused and a bit incredulous.
that little kid reading?' I hear someone say. 'Did he just say
the lecturer introduced a history of scientific observations about the
possibility of water on Mars, starting with the nineteenth-century
astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who believed he saw canals on the
planet's surface. Hearing this, Jake started to laugh. In my anxiety, I
thought he was going to lose it, but when I looked up at him, I could
see he was genuinely cracking up, like the idea of canals on Mars was
the greatest knee-slapper he'd ever heard...
I quieted him down. But I could see the ripple spread through the crowd
as people started craning their necks to see what was going on.
the lecturer asked a question of the audience: 'Our moon is round. Why
do you think the moons around Mars are elliptical, shaped like
in the crowd answered, probably because no one had the slightest idea.
I certainly didn't. Then Jakes hand shot up. 'Excuse me, but could you
please tell me the size of these moons?' This was more conversation
than I'd seen from Jake in his entire life, but then again, Id never
tried to talk to him about Mars's moons. The lecturer, visibly
surprised, answered him. To the astonishment of everyone, including me
Jake responded. 'Then the moons around Mars are small, so they have a
small mass. The gravitational effects of the moons are not large enough
to pull them into complete spheres.'
room went silent, all eyes on my son. Then everyone went nuts, and for
a few minutes the lecture came to a halt.
professor eventually regained control of the room, but my mind was
somewhere else. I was completely freaked out. My three-year-old had
answered a question that had been too difficult for anyone else in the
room, including the Butler students and all the adults present. I felt
too dizzy to move."
Three types of interest.
There are three types of interest and they are 'Situational
Interest' where interest
is in something stimulating in the present environment, 'Individual
Interest' where interest is in a group of related or similar things
that have been built up over time, and 'General Interest' where
interest is in everything, and although built up over time, can be seen
as a kind of character trait. These three types of interest are very
much interrelated and dependent on each other, and in turn are
dependent on the freedom of the person to indulge in
How does situational interest come about? As explained above our
initial interest in something comes about in two different ways. We
are attracted to things because they are different to anything we have
experienced before (curiosity) and because they are similar something
we have experienced before (interest).
when we enter a new environment the situation may seem weird or strange
but we find it attractive to learn about precisely because it is
unknown. It is its lack of previously being experienced that creates its
situational interest. But this is a very fragile form of potential
interest. If it immediately brings pleasure in the learning of it, it
less fragile and becomes what is then more properly called true
Other than that initial tentative state all
interest in a situation comes about the same way all interest comes
about, by generalizing from one particular context to another. In
becoming interested in something we are taking a particular event or
bit of information and generalizing it to create a mini category of
events or bits of information. We then form a theory that the pleasure
gained in undertaking the production of event: (A) may be also gained
from undertaking the production of event (B). Although there is
pleasure to be gained in learning anything, we do not automatically
expand what we think is pleasurable to all things. Instead, our
interest in things grows in small increments, starting out being about
one thing, and then gradually stretching out to encompass something
generalize slowly from one thing to things that
are similar. We come to the world with some interests, some things that
we have found pleasurable in the past. The previous situation may only
be a little
similar to the current situation, but that can be enough to precipitate
action or engagement in a learning activity that we think may be
If it turns out that it does give us some pleasure, and that validates
theory of possible pleasure occurring, then the likelihood of engaging
the activity again goes up and situational interest develops.
Each time our theory is validated and we experience pleasure from the
activity, we are in the process of forming an interest beyond the
current situation and beginning to build the next type of interest
that of individual interest.
initial interest, or interest in a situation, is a time of critical
importance to future learning, when we can become more interested or
less interested. The person who is strongly interested in horses (for
whom horses are an individual interest) is not going to become
uninterested in horses just because he walks in some horse dung, but a
person who is only vaguely interested in horses (who has ventured into
an interesting situation) may become uninterested in this way.
Teachers in particular need to be very aware just how much they can
help or hinder in this process.
Individual interests grow out of situational
interest. Experience of pleasure in several situations that have
elements in common tend to be grouped together into sets of interest
that have those things in common. These, as we add more and more bits,
gradually become more and more defined as an individual interest. It
should be remembered however, that these individual interests are quite
unique to each person. If I am interested in science and you are
interested in science we may not in fact have any interests in common,
because science is a very big area of knowledge. Even in a much more
confined category such as chemistry this may still be true. Indeed our
own interests are always growing and changing so much that our
interests of a month ago may be quite different to our interests
How does individual interest come about?
Individual interest comes about for particular fields of learning the
same way all interest comes about by generalizing from one particular
context to others. In becoming interested in something we are taking a
particular event or bit of information and generalizing it to create a
category of similar events or bits of information and then form a
theory that the pleasure gained in undertaking the production of event:
(A) may be also gained from undertaking the production of events (B),
(C), (D), (E) etc. Although there is pleasure to be gained in learning
anything, we tend to generalize to other things that have some elements
in common. The more bits of information or activities we add to such a
category, the more defined that category becomes, and the easier it
becomes to generalize correctly in anticipating pleasure. We
begin to generalize that from that category to other bits of
information, and in so doing, become very likely to be correct in
predicting that the learning of those bits will be pleasurable.
When we say someone is interested in something, we
are talking about something that is ongoing and growing in their lives,
an individual interest. May be they are interested in cars, or child
development, or physics, or art, or heavy machinery. These are all
categories of things, or activities, that people can become interested
in over a long period of time, perhaps for life. This individual
interest is what keeps us interested, when things happen to impede our
interest. If we have an unpleasant experience of crashing in a car, and
if we are interested in cars, that will not put us off. Likewise we
will not be put off physics, if a teacher tells us that our work in
physics is too untidy. We are protected, at least initially, by this
individual interest we have built up toward science over many years,
which fortifies us.
It is interesting to note however, that there is a
mutually supportive interaction between these situational and
individual types of interest. The more situations of interest we
encounter the more possibility there is of encountering something truly
different. These outliers can become cornerstones for building a new
interest out of one of these encounters. On the other hand, the more
different types of interests we build up, the more likely it is that we
will often encounter a situation that is of situational interest. It
also be noted that the more and more different the individual
interests we build up the more likely we are to become generally
How does general interest come about? When our
theories, about possible bits of learning causing us pleasure,
each confirmed, they give us increasing confidence that we can form
similar theories. As the number of these theories grow with the
increasing numbers of individual interests that we form, and as these
interests often grow together into even vaster interests, we begin
a theory about the possibility of any situation being
interesting. Basically, as we generalize out to similar things, we are
also in the process of generalizing out to a huge diversity of things.
So, although interests expand unequally, there is also a gradual shift
to generalizing that anything might be interesting, not just similar
things. Thus we may form a theory that any new experience may be
pleasurable, and a starting point for developing an individual
interest. Thus the anticipation of pleasure thus becomes embedded in
very process of learning making all things attractive to learn. We may
in this way develop into a person that
is generally interested in everything, and in fact we all do, to a
greater or lesser extent. Ideally we may develop into a what is
often called a sort of generally interested personality type or a life
Although many pleasures are already there in most
of the activities we perform all the time, and already intrinsically
motivating, they can be catalyzed by others. People who are willing and
able to recognize interest in the weak forms of curiosity and
can facilitate quick and easy indulgence of it, when it occurs. We do
not need to motivate others to learn so much, as make time or equipment
quickly available to enable the children to indulge their nascent
motivation. It is when the weak motivation of situational
interest first delicately blooms, that help may be needed to enable it
blossom into an individual interest. We must also be very careful not
to inhibit children when they are beginning a new interest, but rather
do all we can to facilitate their indulgence in this new interest.
It is often not convenient for parents or teachers
to encourage some new situational interest. Either they haven't got the
time, or it isn't the place, or they feel the child needs to focus on
something else. All of this can be very demotivating to the child, and
thus can precipitate a loss of opportunity to develop a new individual
interest. Parents and teachers need to find ways to overcome this
tenancy in themselves.
The strong motivation of each person's deep
interests do not need to be helped in this way. But it is these strong
individual interests that that can be co-opted if we wish people to be
highly intrinsically motivated. We can co-opt these strong individual
interests to be associated with less strong interests and situations,
where for one reason or another, there is no interest.
need of facilitation in
those with highly developed interests.
explained at the beginning
of this page, people who have a highly developed interest in some
subject matter really need nothing to guide them in their learning.
They ask the right questions, and they set for themselves the right
amount of challenge in indulging in their activities. From the research
done on such people we learn that they are superior in every manner of
learning. K. Ann Renninger puts it like this:
with contents of individual interests are typically focused, relaxed,
and engaged, in comparison with the way they work with subject content
that does not interest them. They also are likely to achieve better
grades and do well on tests. In fact when contexts of individual
interest are inserted in expository passages and contrasted with
contexts that are of less well developed interest, for example,
students are likely to recall more points, recall information from more
paragraphs, recall more topic sentences, write more sentences, provide
more detailed information about topic read, make fewer errors in
written recall, and provide additional topic-relevant information."
you are surprised by this glowing evidence from research, you really
should not be,
because this can be found at all times in the activities of people in
everyday life around us. Other research tells us, that people who have
highly developed interest in specific subject matter, are better able
to persist in the face of frustration and feelings of failure, to find
answers to questions raised by failure, and in the end resolve such
difficulties. They are also more likely to take risks and be
resourceful at problem solving. In some ways they are more tolerant of
questions they cannot find the answers to, in that they do not expunge
them from their minds, but also they do not give up trying to solve
truly interesting discovery about people who are highly
interested in a specific subject matter is, that they are not goal
oriented in so far as they can not usually articulate any one goal of
learning and are normally unaware of such goals in themselves or
others. Learning is a strange thing. We cannot have goals in it because
it is about what we do not know. We cannot have goals because we do not
know where we are going or what we are going to learn. Interest
guides people to find the
information they need when they need it. Interested people really do
not require a teacher, nor is a
teacher usually useful for them, other than to provide access to
materials and information otherwise
unavailable. The main job of teachers may in fact be to facilitate
those who are currently not interested into becoming
The myth of coercion.
There is an unfounded theory among educators, that
many activities are intrinsically motivating, that children are by
nature lazy, and can only become interested in such activities if they
are forced or lured into engaging in it. It is difficult for the
ordinary person to see this theory as invalid, as the educators can
produce endless examples of children, who seem interested in almost
nothing. One should keep in mind however, that these children can
usually only be produced after they have been in the school system for
some time. In other words the educators can only produce such children
after the school system has managed to kill their interests. Some say,
that far from killing students interests the schools do their best to
maintain and encourage student's interests. This may be true of certain
schools and for certain types of approved interests, such as interest
in a particular acceptable school subject, but there seems little
evidence of this
even, in an average school. Such people will explain the gradual loss
of interests as children go to school as a natural phenomena, but this
would have little evolutionary value, and does not seem apparent in
more primitive peoples, where schooling does not exist in the form we
Can or should we use extrinsic motivators?
The pragmatic question is, if these unmotivated
students exist regardless of how they came to be, what should be done
to reengage them in activities and to encourage their forming of new
interests? While this might not actually be the right question to ask,
perhaps there is an answer to it. There can be no doubt that we can get
children to engage in these intrinsically motivating activities through
the use of threats or offers of extrinsic rewards. Thus their interest
should then be activated, through the anticipation of these newly
But adding these pleasure anticipations together
in this way, can be more damaging than helpful. Extrinsic rewards have
been shown, in extensive research, to be damaging to intrinsic
motivation when conditional, especially when extrinsic reward is
applied to situational interest.
Some people/institutions try to bribe children to
giving them extrinsic rewards for learning, such as sweets or gold
stars. The idea presumably, is that once they start learning the other
pleasures anticipated will continue to motivate when the artificial
rewards are withdrawn. This seems as if it should work, and does in
special circumstances to some extent. But unfortunately, the withdrawal
of the reward is often interpreted as pain, so the child anticipates
the pain of not getting the reward, and this can be stronger than
intrinsic rewards caused by situational interest. It has been shown
experimentally, that this is also experienced as a loss of
self-determination or autonomy, and is accompanied by feelings of being
controlled or manipulated. This would indicate, that we should avoid
adding extrinsic pleasures to intrinsic pleasures already acting on
children, wherever possible.
Facilitating interest in the uninterested.
There many ways to engage children in activities
without using extrinsic motivators. Typically, there are four ways of
enabling students to motivate themselves through interest.
students to experience more of what is available for them to
experience. This might be called providing an enriched or stimulating
environment. Perhaps the most important function of a teacher or
facilitator is simply let a student know what is available to learn. To
expose students to the incredible variety of things that they have an
opportunity to become interested in. This will be covered fully in
learning key no. 9 about establishing choices.
situations of interest.
personal enthusiasm and other means of learning contagion.
is also an enriched or stimulating environment, but rather than just
providing options or choices, a person acts as a model of being himself
intrinsically motivated. This inspirational social contagion will be
covered fully in learning key no. 7 about social contagion.
investigation into what the student already knows.
kind of investigation will provide information about the students
current individual interests, if any exist, and if not will reveal
likely situations that will be interesting where the development of
situational interests may begin. This will be covered fully in learning
key no. 8 about building on what is already there.
real competence and confidence building sort of feedback.
Positive feedback is effective if it contains information about the
activity the person just performed. In other words it should be about
what the person did right, and what can be done about improving the
rest. To be really effective it also needs to be about the amount of
improvement that has occurred, and how much effort or persistence was
applied. This will be covered fully in learning key no. 2 about gaining
and building real confidence.
all else fails jump start.
is always better to rely on intrinsic motivators, it
is certainly possible to use extrinsic motivators in extreme
situations, where students have reached a state of being insensitive to
Extrinsic motivators can
thus be used to jump start people if the people have no interest in an
activity or have an adverse motive.
this may sound like a contradiction of everything this site has shown
of all the bad that can that can come of using any kind of extrinsic
motivator. The sad truth is that it is just such a
contradiction. The reason for such an inclusion here is to try and
minimize the worst effects such efforts.
means threatening the person
if they do not perform the
activity or offering a reward if the activity is engaged in. For this
to be remotely effective, however, the person doing this manipulative
facilitation needs to be sensitive to the appearance of any intrinsic
interest in the target person, and be prepared to quickly discontinue
any threat or offer of reward, as soon as any interest begins to
Because there is no previous interest or intrinsic motivation, no loss
of interest or intrinsic motivation should occur. This site cautions
use such inducements sparingly, and only when no alternative exists.
The fact is of course, that this is the technique used in normal
schools all the time, where it is used very ineffectively. It is
ineffective because threats and rewards are never discontinued with
the appearance of any intrinsic motivation, and it is applied to all
students without regard for whether the
student is initially intrinsically motivated or not.
interest in those with lower developed individual interests.
culture, in western society, we are often required by that society, to
learn things that we are either not interested in or in which we are
only beginning to become interested. We have some interest but at a low
level of interest. Students can have four types of responses to lowly
developed individual interests:
to a goal that entails forcing one's self.
people with a low individual interest are able to still motivate
themselves by setting a learning goal for themselves, which they use to
try and maintain interest. By setting for themselves some marker to
attain, they can then sort of force themselves to learn in order to
achieve that goal. This as explained previously is a very difficult
concept as there is no way to know what we my want or need to know.
Psychologically speaking, the goal becomes part of
the person's self concept, but the various things to be learned do not,
and remain of very low interest. The result is usually a very
conflicted person, who learns, but not well. Unlike people who are
highly interested, these people tend to become increasingly less
motivated as time goes on due to feeling of loss of autonomy. Teachers
may also try to set goals for their students, but this is likely to
produce even greater feelings of loss of autonomy and subsequent
inability to retain the knowledge. For goal setting to have any useful
effect in this way the goals have to be set by the student not the
parent or the teacher. Although it is possible to learn this way more
less without any interest, this is a bad way to learn. This is because
it not only takes the pleasure out of learning but it can also produce
an aversion to whole domains of learning.
elements of high interest into the knowledge to be learned.
with low individual interest may try to learn by injecting elements of
subject content that they are highly interested in into subject
contents that they are only moderately interested in. In doing this,
they are attempting to sort of trick themselves, into a more enriched
or deep valuing of the subject content. This strategy, surprisingly, is
more effective than goal setting because it is more likely to encourage
the development of stronger individual interest, thus eventually
allowing high individual interest to transition from the low individual
interest to normal individual interest. There could be many ways to do
this, such as inserting
uniquely interesting elements into texts, like making mathematics about
can also be done by external people such as parents and
teachers. People can do this, by first finding elements of
hidden in subject matter of low interest. People who have an interest
in discussing things with others might be able to make subjects more
interesting simply by discussing them with others. This is in fact a
strategy often employed by students. These would also be a good
strategies for teachers to use in schools to make learning more
individual for each student, and thus more interesting to each student.
This is by far the most effective tool parents and teachers can use to
try and increase interest and increase intrinsic motivation.
only enough to get the reward offered or get by the threat.
when people have some interest in some subject matter, they may ignore
this completely and end up reacting to the subject matter as if they
were not interested in it at all. They may instead react to it as if
the only thing motivating them were any extrinsic motivators, such as
reward or threat of punishment. In this case people are likely to do
only as much as is necessary to avoid the punishment or to obtain the
reward. In this way they will develop only enough knowledge to perform
the tasks required and will typically hold little value for that
knowledge and little likelihood of integrating it into their knowledge
base. Evidence of this can be seen in the work of people who are good
at passing exams, but have very little real knowledge, because they do
not retain it. You also see this in some people's daily work, where
they do only enough to get by.
Finally people although
moderately interested in some subject matter, may however, fail to
engage in the activity of learning it at all, and in fact may be unable
to engage in learning it. Perhaps they have not developed the skills
necessary to motivate themselves when their interest is too low, or
perhaps their inability may stem from the effort of others to motivate
them, but which instead causes resistance.
In school students spend so
much time working with subject contents, for which they have no
individual interest, or at least have very low individual interest.
Because of this, and the fact that to be successful in society one
needs to learn these subject contents, students need to be supported
and facilitated by an expert or peer in their efforts to engage in
learning these subject contents. Here's the thing. Low
individual interests are the beginnings of high individual interests,
but they are at a point of being very fragile, and
only become stronger as more information is collected to form an
individual interest knowledge base. It is not just situational
interest, that requires support in the form of material, hints as to
were to find information, informational feedback about shared values
and information about the extent of improvement are all required. These
are also the best way for teachers and peers to encourage other
students, who are just beginning to form an individual interest that is
still weak. People with low individual interest can be helped best by:
Help with the procurement of materials necessary
to maintain interest.
Help with the finding of the information necessary
to maintain interest.
Help with the informational feedback about
competence and improvement necessary to maintain interest.
Help to infuse elements of high interest into the
knowledge to be learned and to find elements of high interest hidden in
subject matter of low interest as in the second student reaction above.
facilitation most needed?
explained at the beginning
of this page, a child's major interests can unfortunately be
intentionally or unintentionally, by parents, teachers and society.
When this happens children find themselves highly frustrated and little
interested in learning other things. When this happens children are
learning that learning is painful and unpleasant. They are learning not
to learn. What they need is someone to help them rediscover what they
are most interested in. They need someone to facilitate their discovery
of something to learn that gives them pleasure again, and in doing so,
reawakens their intrinsic motivation to learn.
The element. In his
book "The Element" Ken Robertson talks about each person's main
interest as being his or her element. This is from the idea that each
person can be in their element. The importance of interest, as
explained above, is in its ability to spread itself to other similar
items and domains of knowledge by generalizing to include those similar
items, and eventually those domains. Loss of one's most important
interest is a loss of the main source of this disseminating function of
interest. If the
intrinsic motivation to learn is revived for one subject it
surprisingly tends to
spread to other subjects. The encouraging of a child's greatest
interest can help revive a general interest that quickly spreads to
all things. In her
book "The Spark" Kristine Barnett shows us over and over again, how to
find and encourage each child's passion, and in doing so revive each
one's general interest in learning:
had always encouraged the children in my daycare to lean into their
passions, and over the years I saw how astonishing the results could be
when they had the opportunity and resources to do so. When I noticed
Elliott, one of my daycare kids, putting his fingers into the screw
holes at the back of Michael's brand new television, I drove straight
over to the nearest electronics repair store (remember those?) and told
the guy behind the counter that I'd take all his hopeless cases - all
the radios and televisions he couldn't fix. 'As long as its not
or broken in a truly dangerous way, I'll take it,' I said. What looked
like a gigantic pile of junk to most people became hours of fun for
Elliott, especially when I presented him with the brand-spanking-new,
candy-apple-red, six head screwdriver he'd need to take everything
the Salvation Army, I found old alarm clocks for Elliott to take apart
and fix and an expensive but never used watercolor set for artistic
seen the attention the kids in the daycare gave to activities they
loved and the way they flourished when they were given the time and
space to to pursue those interests, so it was never a surprise years
later to field calls with updates from grateful moms. That was how I
learned that so many of the daycare kids had flourished as they'd grown
older. Claire, for instance, moved on to art classes and a probable
internship at a museum in Indianapolis.
began building computers from scratch at age ten and spent high school
'hackintoshing' in his parents garage, using PC parts to build hybrid
machines that ran the apple operating system. During an internship at a
clinic in our community, he designed a piece of specialized medical
equipment that is still used by doctors there today. He did all this
before leaving high school.
and over again, I noticed how doing what they loved brought all of the
children's other skills up as well. Even as a very little girl,
Lauren's favorite thing to do was to 'play house' while at daycare.
She'd happily help me fold laundry or put smaller babies down for their
naps, but she wasn't very interested in what might be considered more
academic pursuits, such as reading or counting. Her mother continued to
send her to me for after-school babysitting even as Lauren got older,
and I began teaching her to make some of the pastries that Stephanie
and I had learned to make in my grandmother's kitchen. We spent hours
together measuring and stirring, making more cookies and cakes than we
could possibly eat.
mother had the idea to drop some of the extra treats off at a food
pantry one day, but it was Lauren's idea to begin volunteering there.
Her mom was understandably worried that the hours of baking and serving
in the soup kitchen would get in the way of Lauren's schoolwork, but I
felt confident that her other skills would naturally improve if she was
encouraged to do what she loved, and her mother was convinced. By age
eleven, Lauren was a fixture at the soup kitchen on weekends and had
won a number of community service awards - all the while maintaining
straight A's in school, as well as starring in school plays and local
Passion beyond mere interest.
There is, however, something that propels people
forward in gaining knowledge, that is beyond situational interest,
individual interest and general interest. Call it commitment. Call it
passion. There is something that can galvanize ordinary people into
becoming exceptional people, or into becoming eminent in, some field of
study, or in the exercise of some skill. Usually this can traced to a
single event in a great person's life, a point where something happens
and suddenly a great desire is triggered in them. Suddenly they say to
themselves, "That is what I want to do with my life", or more usually,
"That is who I want to be." What is it in great peoples lives that
causes that moment often to come about?
In his book
Talent Code" Daniel Coyle provides us with several
can do that.
possible answer is that a person may already
be personally interested in something, and then some event occurs that
incredibly shows that he may, through hard work and constant
improvement, become the very best at that thing he is interested in.
Perhaps it is someone he knew, who never seemed particularly talented,
but who was hard working. When you notice such a person unexpectedly
thrust into the limelight of being eminent in his or her field, your
life can change. Suddenly your interest is turned into passion as you
realize, "I can do that, I can be him. This is exemplified by the story
of the small island of Curacao. Coyle in his book explains how a small
island managed to produce a champion team of baseball players.
explains: "...Curacao's success can be traced to to a single
moment of ignition - actually two moments, lasting approximately three
seconds each. They both happened at Yankee Stadium on October 20, 1996
in the opening game of the world series. ...An unknown
nineteen-year-old Curacaoan rookie named Andruw Jones stood at the
plate... Jones recognized the spin on the slider and slammed the pitch
ten rows into the left field seats. ...Like a shock wave , Jones
historic feat was flashed on screens around the world. But all that was
nothing compared to the blast that rocked Jones's home town of
Willemstad. Curacao's Little League founder, Frank Curiel, remembers
the sound he heard when Jones hit the home run. 'It was very, very
loud. Fire crackers, yelling everyone shouting, everyone waking up.' A
few weeks later a Little League sign-ups the first aftershock showed up
in the form of four hundred new kids. Their motivation was perhaps all
the stronger since they new that Jones hadn't even been one of the best
players on the island."
possibility is that you may be, through
luck or design given a one time chance. When Bill Joy and Bill Gates
were given a chance to write code on the most up to date computers,
they tried it, liked it, and their passion grew quickly and quietly.
But they had other chances it was not just a one time thing. When this
happens to people in distressed circumstances who are perhaps poor or
part of a usually unacceptable minority group, a chance (to get out)
may mean a lot more. Such people may be galvanized into commitment, in
a way that is impossible for those in more comfortable circumstances.
lucky me. This second possibility is beautifully illustrated
by Daniel Coyle as follows: "In the early 1980s a young
violin teacher named Roberta Tzavaras decided to bring classical music
to three Harlem public elementary schools. The problem was, there were
far more students than violins. To solve this problem, as well as to
underscore her belief that every child was capable of learning to play
the violin, Tzavaras decided to hold a lottery. The first class made up
of lottery winners, made surprisingly fast progress. So did the second
and the third. The program thrived to become the Opus 118 Harlem Center
for Strings. Tzavaras and her students have performed at Carnegie Hall,
at Lincoln Center, and on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Their success
inspired a documentary film, 'Small Wonders' and a 1999 Hollywood movie
called 'Music of the Heart'."
Another possibility that Coyle suggests, is to be found in the fact,
that of people need to make themselves safe. The evidence he gives for
this is the extraordinary number of eminent people who have lost a
parent early in life. While this site does not dispute his evidence we
think he may have gotten this wrong. It is, perhaps more likely, that
this loss of a parent may simply provide the necessity of becoming
responsible for satisfying their own needs early in life. This in turn,
may simply force the making of a career choice early in life, and
likewise making a commitment to it. As Coyle also points out the very
act of making a commitment, as one would expect in terms of cognitive
dissonance, is central to improvement. Coyle tells the story of a study
by Gary McPherson on children playing musical instruments, where it was
found that commitment proved to be more important than practice as far
as improvement was concerned.
tiny powerful idea. Coyle explains the results of the study
as follows: "The differences were staggering. With the same
amount of practice the long-term-commitment group out performed the the
short-term-commitment group by 400 percent. The long term commitment
group with a mere twenty minutes of weekly practice, progressed faster
than the short-termers who practiced of an hour and a half. When long
term commitment combined with high levels of practice skills
skyrocketed. ...At some point very early on they had a crystallizing
experience that brings the idea to the fore, that says I am a
the igniting of young minds.
facilitating passion (ignition commitment) is a very difficult
undertaking. There are, however, some sorts of environments that are
more likely to produce ignition commitment and passion than others.
children into contact with eminent people.
environment where children are living with, interacting with and
observing eminent people, is one where they will be motivated to
imitate those eminent people, and where it will not seem such an
impossibility to become eminent. As the stories point out this works
best when the eminent come in contact before they are eminent.
track of the children.
track of all the children, so that if any become great or eminent, this
can quickly be relayed to those other children that knew them. In this
information age it would be much easier to keep track of what is
happening to students after they leave school. Living in an environment
where people you knew have gone on to become famous or eminent in some
field, is where young minds are likely to become ignited with passion.
chances for all children.
chance provided by a
lottery, can only achieve this high motivation of passion, if the child
in question recognizes and believes he or she is getting a chance. For
instance, both Bill Joy and Bill Gates recognized they were being given
a chance, a privilege, few others in the world would be given, and they
took full advantage of it. Likewise the music lottery of Tzavaras
worked fine with with poor minorities, but did not work with middle
class children who did not see it as a chance. Scholarships are for the
poor and excluded and they provide the poor with a chance. Much more
could be done to provide the poor with chances with a little
imagination. For middle class children who already have most of the
chances in life it is difficult to provide them with one unless with
something truly extraordinary as was the case with Bill Joy and Bill
Encourage children to take responsibility for themselves and others
early in life. There is often a lot of talk at schools about students
taking responsibility for their actions. This is usually meaningless.
For the most part school administrators do not want students to make
decisions about their own lives. School administrators for the most
part see decision making about students as their job. What the schools
as a rule mean by responsibility, is that the students should listen to
what the schools are demanding, and comply with those demands. But this
is very weird thinking as how can children take responsibility for
other people's decisions. They certainly have responsibility to decide
whether or not to comply with instructions, but beyond that they get no
practice in either making decisions or taking responsibility for those
decisions. For the
students to learn how to truly take responsibility, they need to be
able to make
decisions that will affect their lives and eventually the lives of
others. In order to be able to commit
to something, students need to delve (at least superficially) into
various high level subjects
early, and then have an opportunity to make choices as to what they
want to do or be.
important lost opportunity in learning is our general inability to
convert situational interest into individual interest. While the
answers to this problem, as explained above, are quite simple and
fairly easy to implement, they are nevertheless usually prevented from
being implemented. They are prevented mostly by shifting attention to
the goals of parents and schools, goals to make sure students'
knowledge is verified by the obtaining of degrees. How often do you
find parents saying, 'Don't do that, don't learn that, learn this
instead'? Teachers almost have to stop children learning in one area so
they can learn in another. If we could just provide children with
materials and knowledge when they show glimmers of interest, instead of
when it is convenient for teachers and schools or even parents, we
would build individual interest and have far greater and wider
knowledge. It comes back to the old question of what is important. Is
it important to have real knowledge that grows out of interest and thus
meaning, or is it more important to have a piece of paper that says you
have such knowledge?
most important thing about learning is that
we can and should want to learn every day of our lives. The only way we
are going to do this is through our curiosity and interests. We do it
because we are
always facing situations of situational interest that prompt our
curiosity, and because our own
web of individual interests continues to grow throughout out lives. We
also continue to learn because our general interest grows and
strengthens throughout our lives.
does this happen? A good analogy is an atomic
bomb. In an A bomb the breakdown of matter gives off energy causing
other nearby matter to break down, which gives off even more energy. If
you put enough of this matter in the process of breaking down together,
so much energy is released, that it reaches what is called a critical
mass. This results in a chain reaction that obliterates a small amount
of the bomb's mater turning it into explosive energy. The result is an
blast that can level a city.
can think of interest in much the same way.
First we become interested in specific things because we venture into
situations of interest. It could be said that we are exposed to novel
situations about which we become curious. As these situations provide
us with the pleasure of learning about them we start to seek out
similar situations. We thus develop individual interests from
these, which grow similar types of knowledge. As more and
more of these interests appear and grow, they eventually grow together
into clumps that we call areas of individual interest. These areas of
interest gain momentum and grow ever faster. The bigger they get the
more they fuse together and grow even faster. Meanwhile, if new
situational interest is not ignored, and other individual interests are
allowed to grow, a general interest in learning develops. At some point
this process becomes like a critical mass and the chain reaction
becomes impossible to stop. People who reach this point will continue
to learn all their lives.