Passion in Learning

Will Richardson’s presentation at the Online Connectivism Conference had a number of great ideas, but one recurring theme was the idea of passion in learning. Will talked about creating networks of passionate learners. This comes back to my ideas about lifelong learning from my post last week; if we can excite our students, they can be motivated to continue learning beyond “what’s on the test.”

Konrad Glogowski has a great summary of this idea. He also includes a “reality check” about being too enamored with technology without keeping in mind the purpose–helping students.

Maybe I’m oversimplifying things here but, let’s face it, if all the theory and technology that we have at our disposal amount, in practical terms, to having students record an mp3 file, blog for a couple of weeks, or connect with other students to exchange ideas about a fictional character or their home province, then sooner or later these new tools and approaches will acquire the status of mere classroom work. They will become as uninviting as “chalk and talk” is today. It seems to me that we are often focusing on technology for the sake of focusing on technology. Are we helping students find ideas that they are passionate about?

That seems to be the crux of it all; the importance isn’t in the technology itself, it’s in what the technology lets us do. If you’re passionate about something, the Web 2.0 technology gives you a much better chance of connecting with others than what you had before. Wikipedia is full of examples of cultural knowledge that is perhaps somewhat obscure, but has passionate followers. Earlier today I saw a blog by someone who loves fruitcake, and that has to be a tiny audience. (Note: I am not part of the fruitcake fan audience.) The point is that people can share their passions. The information about these topics is much more accessible than it has ever been.

Someone asked Will how we can help older teachers (and others who resist this technology) adjust and become more comfortable with these changes. His suggestion was to use the things other teachers are passionate about as their introduction. Show them how to find out more about their passions and how to connect with others who share those passions. Once again, it isn’t about the technology itself; it’s helping them see how the technology provides opportunities. This is the case whether it is K-12 or higher education.

I’ve been listening in the connectivism conference for what I can use in my own instructional design practice, and this is certainly one thing I can try to improve. For e-learning, it should be allowing people to explore the environment and learn what is most important to them: providing learner control should be one of my goals. I think I also need to allow opportunities for students to research and apply content to whatever they are passionate about. That means I have to build in more open-ended opportunities for discussion and application.

My current course (with Will as Subject Matter Expert) is about Read/Write Web technology in K-12 classrooms. I think that passion will probably primarily be in the small group wiki project. I am going to provide some suggested topics, but I think groups should be allowed to choose what their wiki will be about. Ultimately, I think allowing that flexibility will help improve the quality of the final product; students will create better content and collaborate more effectively when they care about the subject. Students will also create blogs, so that should give them some opportunity to talk about their passions as well. It will be all school-related, but if a teacher can’t write passionately about their vision for education, I’m not sure what I can do for them.

What about other examples of engaging students’ passions in the classroom? I actually think it is harder in a corporate training environment, but I’d love to hear if someone has done so successfully? What have you done to create passionate learners?

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