Today Matters » Why Do We Learn?

Why Do We Learn?

StudentsCodingDecember 6, 2018
There is more information contained within the pages of a single Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune than the average person living in the middle ages would have consumed in an entire lifetime. When I ponder statements like this, it makes me realize that we don’t really need to have more information, more facts, more knowledge… what we really need is to do more with what we know.
Now don’t get me wrong, school-aged children have a lot of learning to do… and there are standards that drive what’s taught at specific grades, etc. But a question continues to nag at me: “Why do we learn?”
There is learning for learning’s sake, particularly if it’s learning about something you are interested in. I think wonder and curiosity are drivers for this type of learning and for wanting to learn more. The reason for this type of learning is not to accumulate more facts. It’s to satisfy a craving… fulfilling a need. It helps keep our brain’s open and flexible. Still, there is aspect of learning that pertains to bringing things full circle. To complete the learning/application circle, we need to apply the knowledge we are acquiring to a task, to solving a problem, to answering questions we care about and affect our lives.
Funny, most people report that they love learning… but don’t like school. This is especially true as students get older. Think about your own experiences. Kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade… were amazing. Young human people learn so much, so fast, and creativity and wonder are nurtured and encouraged. We accumulate more baseline information and data to support future learning at this time in our lives than any other. Then something happens, something changes…and the wonder and creativity are replaced with memorizing facts and tons of homework. This process can kill the love of learning and make school a joyless place. If love of learning is halted or skewed this can affect how we complete the circle and actually apply what we have learned in our lives.
In D142, our classrooms are being transformed into learning laboratories. The space is no longer designed by adults for adults, but for students… a place to ensure that curiosity and a love for learning are protected. Robust conversations, flexile learning environments, appropriate saturation and access to technology, and more have become commonplace in our schools. When we design spaces for students, and their learning, and their comfort first… amazingly students are more at ease. I certainly know that I learn better when I feel at ease than when I feel stressed. This is a prevailing philosophy within our district and one that supports the joy of learning.
The answer I have, after studying, researching, and reading about why we learn is quite simple. The reason we learn, as adults, as children, as students is because simply, the conditions have been created where we want to. When students want to learn, because it’s interesting, applicable, relevant… they do. That is the job of every teacher and every school in America, to encourage students, within the right environment, to want to learn.