Monday, December 28, 2015

Why People Don't Like to Learn

Learning requires feeling dumb for a while. And that's why people don't learn.

Everyone tasked with teaching anything to adults has ample experience with students feeling anxious and embarrassed for not instantly and perfectly grasping some point or other. It's not what you think. It's not a reaction to having tested poorly. The distress precedes the test; it precedes even the lesson. It starts with the acknowledgement of whatever deficit the lesson aims to correct.

People are accustomed to masking their ignorance, but learning requires dropping the mask. And that is horribly, horribly upsetting for many people. So they flail to show both themselves and their teachers that they hardly needed the instruction in the first place. Believe it or not, this is incredibly common; the rule rather than the exception. Exactly at the moment when receptive curiosity would serve them best, they're always trying to prove how very clever they are.

Children don't do this. Lacking an immutable self-image, they're perfectly fine serving as empty cups. That's one reason they learn so easily, while adults are famously incapable of doing so past a certain age. It's not a cognitive problem, it's an emotional one. Learning requires feeling dumb for a minute, and that's just a deal-killer.

This expands on something I previously wrote: I like to be told that I'm being an idiot. This helps me be less of an idiot. By contrast, most people would much rather be idiots than feel like idiots.

More thoughts on impedences of adult learning:
Two Obstructions to Learning
Learn Like a Kid
Gradual, Thorough, Incremental Learning is Obsolete

Also see all postings tagged "education".

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