Monday, December 28, 2015

Why People Don't 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 just not about getting something wrong. It's about the unwillingness to acknowledge or display any deficit at all.

People are accustomed to masking their ignorance and other flaws, but learning requires dropping the mask. And that is horribly, horribly upsetting for most people. So they flail to show both themselves and their teachers that they hardly needed 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 trying to prove how very clever they are.

Children don't do this. Lacking a firm 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 more of an obnoxious know-it-all. 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Gradual, Thorough, Incremental Learning is Obsolete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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