Learning Requires More Than Play

From J.E. Stone, “Learning Requires More Than Play,” Education Matters (2004):

For years educational experts have held that the only good way to engage students in schoolwork is by making it exciting, engaging, and fun. Students have been expected to study and learn but only if the subject wasn’t boring. The public has been told that school facilities must be attractive, books colorful, and, above all, studies must be “intrinsically” interesting. Teachers have been expected to be stimulating but not obtrusive, challenging but not demanding of overexertion. They have been told that if their teaching is truly enthusiastic, innovative, and creative, students will learn spontaneously, if not effortlessly.

. . .

In fact, what Steinberg, Tomlinson, and so many other experts are finding reflects an often disagreeable truth about learning: Learning takes study and study takes time and effort. Today’s students are immersed in a world of competing attractions; and no matter how teachers go about making learning attractive, students responding only to “edutainment” are unlikely to make the kind of effort that quality learning requires.

. . .

As an educational psychologist, I have no disagreement with learning that is exciting, engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable. What I find unrealistic, however, is the pedagogical orthodoxy that worthwhile learning occurs only when studies are exciting and fun. In truth, many valuable lessons in both school and daily life are not fun at all. Students who study because they feel obliged to do so (i.e., who study even when they do not feel especially interested or enthused), learn both the easy lessons and the difficult ones; and they learn something important about life as well. They learn that real achievement usually requires a real effort.

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