How do we make learning interesting?

If learners are bored, learning diminishes. We need to keep learning interesting and relevant if we want to learners to participate and learn. As Wlodkowski points out in his book, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults*, learners can pay attention if they want to but it takes work. Anything you can do to help them pay attention will reduce the workload on the learner and enhance learning. “When we first pay attention to something, it is because its variation, novelty, or relevance has emotional weight or meaning” (Wlodkowski, 2008, p. 228). The key is holding this attention because attention in a learning environment translates to engagement, and engagement leads to successful learning.

Wlodkowski notes that gaining interest is a key to engagement. This interest may start out as situational interest, which is typically short lived but is gained when something is new, unusual, or keenly relevant. Situational interest may lead to individual interest. Individual interest in a topic is much stronger and can lead to true engagement in a learning situation. If you can make a topic relevant to learners, there is a great chance that learners will become individually interested.

When Wlodkowski discusses strategies for making learning interesting, he focuses on three areas: how to maintain learner’s attention, how to evoke and sustain learner’s interest, and how to deepen engagement and challenge adult learners. In order to maintain learners’ attention, Wlodkowski presents five strategies. These strategies vary from ensuring that you ask learners questions on a regular basis, while ensuring you solicit responses with a state of equality. However, you must allow learners an opportunity pass if they wish. When soliciting responses, it is important to keep the learning atmosphere positive and respect the learner’s input. Wlodkowski also recommends changing modes of instruction and types of materials used. Adding variety to instruction helps to maintain learner interest. This also includes varying your presentation style by changing pace of instruction, the gestures you use, and body movements. Another strategy is making instruction points as clear as possible. Introduce your material with clear objectives relating to previous instruction. Include clear transitions when you move from one section to another while summarizing each section. Finally, clearly end instruction with a summary or a Q&A session.

Wlodkowski presents seven strategies for evoking and sustaining a learner’s interest. One of the strategies I believe is key is to tie a topic to the learner’s personal interest. Wlodkowski notes that if we tap into a learner’s concerns, the learner will be more interested in the topic. Storytelling is also another powerful strategy for sustaining interest. We tend to enjoy and remember stories. We like stories that are humorous or dramatic, but more importantly, we relate to stories where there is a lesson attached. Concept maps are also another strategy to try. Concept maps or mind maps are diagrams which show relations between concepts or ideas.

Finally, Wlodkowski provides eight strategies for deepening engagement and challenging learners. Ideally, you want to get learners to a state of flow experience. In a previous post, I related flow experience to my experience playing World of Warcraft. Some of the strategies include presenting problems which will challenge learner thinking. The problems have to be relevant and as realistic as possible. The problems should also be challenging; if they are too easy, they will be disappointing. Most people like a good puzzle. Case studies are also great tools for challenging learners. Because good case studies are open ended, learners must use all of their experience to come to a conclusion. The learners must explore areas where they do not have experience thus scaffolding their learning. Games and simulations are also powerful tools to help learners increase their experience and learning.  Simulations allow learners to participate in activities that would normally be too risky, for example, shut down procedures for a nuclear power plant.

Wlodkowski presents a framework that helps to build a motivating lesson. I have started to actively think about these strategies and how I can incorporate them in my lessons. I personally believe they have already been successful. Naturally, in this post as well as my other posts, I am only scratching the surface. I encourage you to explore the work of Wlodkowski, so you too can incorporate these strategies into your instruction.

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