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


Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.