The curse of motivation

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that educators are particularly vulnerable to. When you spend your working life explaining certain things, it becomes progressively harder to remember what it was like not to understand them. Your knowledge becomes ever more implicit and your learners’ failure to grasp what to you is simply ‘obvious’ becomes a barrier to effective communication of that knowledge.

The problems arising from the curse of knowledge are perhaps less severe than those arising from what should be called the ‘curse of motivation’.

Educators are inclined towards believing that formally learning things is desirable. If educators did not believe that formal learning was an inherently worthwhile undertaking then it would be hard to account for their choice to work as educators. This default attitude for educators is by no means necessarily closely related to the attitude of typical learners.

Design considerations pertaining to the learner engagement potential of learning content and learning objects are not likely to be appropriately handled if the designers’ have specific empathy deficits regarding learners’ motivation to engage with what is being designed.

A crucial factor involved in learners’ motivation to learn is their belief about whether of not they can learn.  A lot of awareness currently exists regarding fixed and growth mindsets. A fixed mindset is often described in mindset related literature to be associated with regarding intelligence as static rather than capable of development. Focusing mindset on attitudes towards intelligence is not necessarily very helpful for promoting the cause of the growth mindset. Intelligence in the sense of general intelligence g -as measured in IQ tests is not necessarily a highly mutable characteristic. What is far more clearly amenable to development is learners’ crystallised intelligence, which many learners might better recognise as experience.

Experience is something that is difficult to acquire quickly (other than by taking big risks). Anything that only occurs gradually has a precarious status in the minds of a lot of contemporary young learners, for whom ‘long‘ is a pejorative. Network technology has made very high speed communication so commonplace that anything that involves a significant degree of waiting carries with at a distinct whiff of obsolescence that relegates its perceived importance to near negligible levels. Furthermore, what is learned through experience can in many cases be learned fairly implicitly. When learners learn implicitly, they do not necessarily explicitly recognise that they have learned.

Learners tend to have unrepresentative views of what they do and do not know. This in turn affects what they tend to be curious about. People tend to be most curious about what is not too detached from what they already know. It follows from this that if learners were able to become more aware of what they did actually know, that should make them more curious about what else they might not have realised that they knew, or wanted to know. This has given me the idea for a learning tool that I would like to call a curiosity integrator (CI).

A CI works similarly to a decision engine (the part of a search engine that recommends things to you, such as when it auto-completes your search term inputs). The CI is an app that is synced to your social media and search engines to collect information about what you are interested in and hence what you probably know about. Either by data mining or by modelling human learners (or both), the CI can extrapolate from your interests (and the knowledge that this implies that you have) what you might know implicitly without knowing that you know. The CI also tracks what you have (probably) learned from experience.

The CI uses what it knows (and can infer) about you to deliver an unpredictably timed series of informal reflections on what you have learned and when, and how these things connect with each other in ways that probably had not occurred to you. The CI suggests what future activities that you might want to undertake could be facilitated by particular learning experiences and links you to appropriate resources for learning.

The point about the CI is that it has no agenda. It does not expect that you should or should not learn anything in particular, it merely attempts to help you to recognise that you know more than you think that you do, in the hope that you find that information encouraging.      








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