1. People are more likely to learn if they are in a positive atmosphere
Negative emotions such as fear, anxiety or pessimism detract from learning, as they make people focus on protecting themselves rather than extending themselves. If people feel safe and are having fun, they are more likely to learn and to learn more. (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly)
2. Learning is necessarily uncomfortable
Learning new things involves your brain making physical connections where before there weren’t any. Learning is literally changing the shape and layout of your brain. So if it’s not uncomfortable, you’re probably not learning. (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly)
3. Having the right mindset is essential for learning
After doing poorly on a test, students with a growth mindset resolve to study more and want to learn from the tests of those who have done much better. Those with a fixed mindset resolve to study less, want to look at the tests of those who have done poorly in order to feel better, and may even seriously consider cheating. (Carol Dweck, Mindset)
4. Reward systems do not help learning, and often harm it
While it’s very tempting to try to motivate students by dangling a carrot in front of them – “If you focus for this whole week, we’ll do something fun on Friday” – what this does is reduces the importance of learning in their minds. It makes learning just a means to an end. ‘Learning’ becomes ‘something we do to achieve a reward’ rather than ‘something important in itself.’ This has the long-term effect of reducing motivation for learning. (Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards)
5. Doing things they like doing helps people to learn and remember
When we’re doing something enjoyable, our brain releases just the right amount of dopamine to enable us to learn and remember. Interestingly, this surge in dopamine levels actually improves our memories of what was going on for the 15-20 minutes before the surge happened. This is our brain’s way of encouraging us to do enjoyable things. Students who laughed during or after learning have been found to improve their recall by as much as 20%. (Ian Gilbert, Why Do I Need A Teacher When I’ve Got Google?)
6. Peer learning in mixed age groups has significant benefits to both parties
Younger children have been found to learn more effectively from working with their five or six year elders. Adolescent males working with younger children have been found to display less aggression and have lower testosterone levels. (Ian Gilbert, WDINATWIGG?)
7. Students’ performance can be boosted by writing about values that are important to them
Spending as little as 15 minutes reflecting on and writing about values that the student finds important can help to reduce the achievement gap. By focusing on things that make the student feel good about themselves, their confidence increases and so their performance improves. (Ian Gilbert, WDINATWIGG?)
8. We cannot motivate students to learn
Motivation is not something that gets done to people. It is something that people create for themselves. Young children learn and explore with great curiosity and considerable intensity. However, as children grow older, they lose much of this natural curiosity and excitement - or get it ‘taught’ out of them. (Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do)
9. A strong focus on grades demotivates students from actual learning
Focusing on grades makes learning a means to an end. People become more focused on ‘getting good grades’ than on ‘learning’. Students who learn in order to be tested have been found to have less intrinsic motivation and less conceptual understanding of the material covered. (Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do)
10. ‘Is this going to be on the test?’ is a distress call
Often taken as a sign of laziness, this question shows that a love of learning has been kicked out of the student. Learning has been made a means to passing tests. Within this internalised framework, if it’s not going to be on the test, you are wasting the student’s time. Students’ motivation has been shifted from ‘learning’ to ‘getting good grades’. (Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do)
If you’re one of the fortunate few currently thinking, “No” then congratulations and good luck to you. But if you’re one of the many who toils day after day, grinding yourself against the millstone, wishing for something different but not knowing what, then please read on and know that you are not alone.
According to this Gallup workplace engagement survey, 63% of employees worldwide “are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time — but not energy or passion — into their work.” A further 24% are not “just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness” and spreading negativity to their colleagues.
87% of employees worldwide. That’s a lot of people.
Did you realise this problem was so big? I certainly didn’t.
In 2010, one in every three US workers was considering leaving their job, but a vastly smaller number actually did so, which means that “A lot of unhappy workers are staying put.” Why? Because we believe that’s just the way the world is. Surely liking your job is just a luxury, right? We need to keep earning so we can pay the bills. And who’s to say that we’d be any happier in a different job?
Let’s start by dealing with a few hard truths. First, we do need to work. It’s an economic reality that we need to earn a living in order to buy the things that keep us alive. Number two, not everyone can find their dream job. There are many reasons for this. One is that not everyone has a dream job, something they feel put on earth to do. And that’s okay. Another is that there are only so many spaces in the world for concert pianists and elite athletes, so if this is your dream, your chances of success are small. A third is that landing your dream job takes a certain amount of good luck and sometimes circumstances are simply not kind. Maybe you have a sick relative to take care of, and caring for them understandably takes precedence over landing your dream job.
But the first two of these hard truths – we have to work and not everyone can find a dream job – leave a great many people settling for too little and hating the consequences. In the UK last year, there were almost half a million reported cases of work-related stress, anxiety or depression. In Australia, 21% of people take time off work for stress-related reasons. Our work is, quite literally, making us sick.
Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” We spend around a third of our adult lives at work. It matters that almost nine in every ten working adults are spending this much time demotivated and unhappy. It matters that we quietly accept something that is making us stressed, anxious and depressed. I do not know what the overall social impact is of this worldwide demotivation and dissatisfaction, but I suspect that people who go home stressed, depressed and unhappy are not contributing what they could to society and to the common good. And this is no criticism of them: when you are dealing with such things, it becomes truly difficult to give anything of yourself beyond the bare minimum. Demotivation and disengagement at work lead to people disengaging socially.
The negative impact our work currently has on us is a two-headed monster: it makes us sick and unhappy, and it damages the social fabric of our communities by limiting what people are able to contribute. This fact matters – and I find it incredible that there aren’t more people talking about this level of disengagement. Improving the way we experience and feel about our work needs to become a priority. So watch this space to read some of our ideas of what we can do about it.