Education Systems, Creativity, Motivation and Results-Only Environments

Being snowed in for a week meant watching a lot of TED talks online, and a few that really interested me focus on certain established environments and how they are not very conducive to education, creativity or motivation.

Sir Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity and the need for a “learning revolution” throughout the world:

Language Mastery also brought my attention to the neat RSA animated talks, such as Changing Education Paradigms which goes along with the above TED talk on education systems.

Dan Pink on the science of motivation:

All of the recent talk about failing education systems makes me wonder why more people aren’t advocating for a Results-Only School Environment similar to the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), especially for language education. It doesn’t matter how or where or sometimes even when you do something, all that matters is that you actually do it. It’s the same principle for work or school – as school essentially is work. Why should students be forced to learn something they don’t want to when they know it will not be beneficial to their future career? Or why should they be expected to remain in a certain classroom at a specific time every week? Or spend four years earning a degree when all of the material could be learned in much less time?

Most of the research on how the brain learns, and more importantly remembers, information goes against the established school schedule and curriculum. In addition to studies showing that self-study or mixed mode classes are better for learning, more and more schools should be catering to what educational research encourages in order to help students learn the most and in the most beneficial environment.  I’ve expressed my views on self-study in the past, and I still believe it is the best way of learning for motivated people. The problem is that current education systems in place do not provide this choice to the many motivated students, besides the occasional online courses which are still bound to schedules set by the school.

I learned everything in my Anthropology 101 textbook before the semester even started, and the actual class was nothing more than lectures of the various chapters of the textbook. I did not learn anything extra by going to class, but I still had to waste 3 hours every week for 15 weeks because the professor lowered our grades if we did not attend. It was incredibly frustrating to feel that more value was placed on students occupying seats in a classroom than on learning the material. In addition, I was only taking the class because it was a General Education requirement, and not because I wanted to or because it had any direct relation to my declared majors of French and Linguistics/Second Language Acquisition. An entire year of my four year Bachelor’s degree was nothing more than Gen Ed classes, all of which were similar to the Anthropology class: class time was simply a reiteration of the chapters in the textbook. Perhaps for students who did not actually read the book, the class was helpful, but for those of us who did the readings, it was a waste of time.

Even when I was in high school, I felt that I could learn much better and much more by studying on my own, away from the distraction of American high school life where sports and popularity were more important than academics. I was always tired (starting at 7:45am, seriously?) , hungry (25 minutes for lunch!) and uncomfortable (you try sitting on plastic chairs for 7 hours) which left me in a constant bad mood. I begged my parents for years to let me be home-schooled though I knew it wasn’t possible financially. I skipped a year of French by learning everything in the textbook over the summer because the other students were just holding me back. If I learn much faster than others, why do I still have to be in the same class as them just because we’re the same age? I did graduate at the top of my class with a 4.0 GPA, but I still felt that school was too easy and not enough of a challenge for me. I did not care for football or Prom; I valued education and learning. Unfortunately I wasn’t surrounded by people who believed the same.

Obviously, results-only environments cannot be applied to all forms of education and they do not work for all people, especially for those who have no interest in autonomy and think they need very specific schedules and deadlines to function properly. Nevertheless, I truly believe that simply giving students the choice and flexibility of learning the way that humans are supposed to learn would improve overall results, especially for foreign languages. When people are free to do what they want, when they want and how they want, they are more motivated and more productive – and the end result is what matters most, not how you got there. If you feel that you learn better at midnight instead of 8 am, or while eating instead of just before or after, or on the couch instead of in front of the computer, then by all means do the things that make you the most comfortable. The only question that should matter is: Did you learn something or not?

Never let your schooling interfere with your education. – Mark Twain


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  • http://www.twitter.com/langaholic Danielle

    Wow…you just summed up every reason why I’ve always hated school, even though I love learning. I had the same experience in my high school language classes–my freshman year I was placed in the highest level Spanish class freshmen could be in and I learned all of the material on my own in my (mandatory) study hall. When I asked my teacher if I could move up to the next level of Spanish, she told me no, I had to stay in my assigned level. It felt like a punishment for being a motivated student. Now that I’m in university, I’m still stuck into specific language classes, but I was able to place out of an Italian course because I taught myself everything that was covered in the first three semesters before I even formally started studying Italian. It’s nice to know that I wasn’t the only one with this problem. Thanks for the great post!

  • http://blog.brain-scape.com Amanda Moritz

    I am also under the impression that we can learn most of, if not all, what we are taught in classes on our own. It would be great if self-study, independent learning were more accepted and incorporated into everyday school learning. I recently went to an edtech meetup in new york that discussed a lot of the hurdles that companies face when trying to get a new solution into the school. It was a great conversation starter, and it’s a conversation that should be started in more towns and cities.

  • Emily

    As someone who doesn’t learn as well purely from reading as from listening/engaging in practical experience, I like the idea of the “mixed mode” learning. I’ve always learned the most from projects, internships, group work, discussions, and taking on topics that I am most interested in. I’ve often felt the US system of graduating students with the most basic education and then having them repeat a bunch of basic courses in University is a waste of time and money. Imagine cutting your student debt in half because you managed to learn the material the first time around (which motivated students tend to do…)! As a lawyer I had to invest in 7 years of university education (to the tune of $150k)while most countries only require 3 or 4 years to learn the same things. What’s the difference? Foreign attorneys start working and earning sooner and have less debt but are just as well educated.

    In short, I agree with you completely. A flexible system allowing students to learn in the way that best suits them and at an individualized pace would be much better than the cookie-cutter, waste of money system we have in place now. Unfortunately, lazy pedagogical approaches is only one component of our broken system. If only we could start from scratch…

  • judy

    The school where i’m teaching now, Puget Sound Community School, is a progressive one that incorporates Robinson’s and Pink’s ideas (Dan Pink even mentioned PSCS in his book, “Drive”).

    If you’re interested in more thinking along these lines, check out:
    stevemiranda.wordpress.com (a blog written by PSCS’s interim director)
    andysmallman.com (the founding director’s website)
    pscs.org (the school’s website)

  • http://twitter.com/langaholic Danielle

    Wow…you just summed up every reason why I’ve always hated school, even though I love learning. I had the same experience in my high school language classes–my freshman year I was placed in the highest level Spanish class freshmen could be in and I learned all of the material on my own in my (mandatory) study hall. When I asked my teacher if I could move up to the next level of Spanish, she told me no, I had to stay in my assigned level. It felt like a punishment for being a motivated student. Now that I’m in university, I’m still stuck into specific language classes, but I was able to place out of an Italian course because I taught myself everything that was covered in the first three semesters before I even formally started studying Italian. It’s nice to know that I wasn’t the only one with this problem. Thanks for the great post!

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I feel, and felt while I was in school myself, very very similarly to you and I had a very similar experience. In college, my personal pet peeve was professors that required attendance, I absolutely hated that because it served absolutely no purpose whatsoever except to protect the prof’s ego so he didn’t have to actually see just how unnecessary he was to do what he did (which was to teach the textbook).

    Our education system here in the states is totally and completely unsalvageable, most countries aren’t much better off (Scandinavia is the exception). My kids are going to be home schooled, I will NOT subject them to system and the sort of thing I had to go through–if I can’t competently teach a certain subject to them myself, I’ll find a private tutor who can, a class of some sort will be a last resort.

    I…just can’t properly express my complete and utter disdain for the educational system, it would take a few dozen paragraphs and 3 or 4 hours of my time to explain it.

    I actually feel like only recently have I really begun to properly learn the things I should’ve been taught in school, through my own investigation, reading, and experimentation with things. I didn’t have any idea how ignorant I was about American history, and history in general, until I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I understand basic finance, accounting, and money management ONLY because I started teaching myself by reading and trial-and-error when I was much younger, and this is one of the most basic and important skills you can have, it easily supercedes chemistry, algebra, ‘classic’ literature, etc. in importance, but it’s rarely taught in school and when it is it’s usually poorly and half-assedly done.

    I could rant more but I won’t.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Have you read Lies My Teacher Told Me? It’s a great book about how high school history classes don’t actually teach real history.

    Homeschooling is definitely the way to go. I’m not having kids, but if I did adopt or something someday, I would not send them to any sort of established school unless it was incredibly progressive and allowed them to study whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.

    If only all countries could be like Finland… :)

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    That’s so unfair that they didn’t let you move up to a higher class.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    That’s so great, Judy! Thanks for sharing the links!

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    It is sad that independent learning seems to have a bad reputation since it is usually the best way to learn. Nowadays people think that online classes and especially “universities” like Phoenix are scams because anyone could do the work while someone else gets credit for it. Though I don’t agree with for-profit colleges like Phoenix, I definitely agree with flexible education systems that allow for the student’s potential.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    It is sad that independent learning seems to have a bad reputation since it is usually the best way to learn. Nowadays people think that online classes and especially “universities” like Phoenix are scams because anyone could do the work while someone else gets credit for it. Though I don’t agree with for-profit colleges like Phoenix, I definitely agree with flexible education systems that allow for the student’s potential.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    The education system needs a complete overhaul but that costs money and takes time, which Americans don’t like – even if in the end it will save money and help students more. I really don’t know how the US will turn education around. The government barely accomplishes anything with all the bickering and childish behavior in Congress. I don’t have much hope that things will get better any time soon. :/

  • Eagle

    Definitely! I feel too, that, school is a complete waste of time. People who are way above the average can be home-schooled, because they are intelligent. However, there are also people who are slightly less gifted and have to go to school. So, why does the education system treat people who are intellectually gifted with disdain? It kills creativity by wanting all humans to be the same!

  • Eagle

    Definitely! I feel too, that, school is a complete waste of time. People who are way above the average can be home-schooled, because they are intelligent. However, there are also people who are slightly less gifted and have to go to school. So, why does the education system treat people who are intellectually gifted with disdain? It kills creativity by wanting all humans to be the same!

  • Suad Alhalwachi

    i agree with you completely, we want outcome based learning environment. but we only have talk but not walk.

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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