Learning is not necessarily boring, scary or unfair: it just seems that way in our memories

The easiest way for me to limit registration in a course or workshop is to put the word "learn" in the title. I've struggled with this for a long time: learning means acquiring the skills or information we need to do things we have never done before. It's hugely important in both innovating and adapting to change around us. But people cringe a little when they see it. It's like offering a course on flossing your teeth or giving up sugar.

I should not really be surprised. I was a full-time student from grade one through dissertation. I had some wonderful teachers and I loved to learn. But when I think about my earliest memories of school, this is what comes up for me. The class had behaved badly in some way (not me!) and the teacher made us sit on our hands until they hurt. And I was asked to be the demonstrator student for some new standardized tests, which meant I did all my tests in front of a room full of teachers. I don't really remember that part: I remember the extreme boredom of colouring to kill time while the rest of the class did their tests later. I was a great student, and my first memories of school are of injustice, pain and boredom.

© Can Stock Photo / pressmaster
There's a pretty good chance that you also remember school as a time when you were intimidated, anxious and bored (I thought about using "or" but decided you were probably all three, maybe at the same time).  Did things get better once you stopped learning in school and started learning at work? Probably not. Too many people experience training at work as boring, irrelevant and an interruption of the stuff they really want to be doing.

This is a big problem. The one thing we know we need to thrive in the future is the ability to think and act in ways that we are not doing now. We need to learn so that we can adapt because we know the world is not going to stand still. It's going to change and it's going to demand that we change, too.

We don't need a better word. It's not going to help if I offer courses in "accelerated adaptation" (which means faster learning). What we need are counter examples, deliberately crafted experiences where learning engages us, energizes us, and leaves us torn between applying what we have learned and our desire to learn even more. As teachers and trainers, we need to defy expectations and create experiences that people want to repeat. And as learners, we need to seek out evidence that learning can be practical and energizing and that we are good at it.


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