Simply learning

Q: How can we inspire curiosity and passion for learning in more people, and help learners make progress towards their personal goals?  How might we use the web (or other tools) to do this? Start by asking yourself, how you developed the passion for the things you are interested in today (what are they?) and then generalize from there.

I’d like to start with Clive Thompson ‘s comment that seems rather apt here: “Now if a student is interested in basketball the teacher can let him learn and explore that deeply – the psychology of it, the economics of it, the politics of it, the statistics of it. Technology has opened up the world to a small school with limited resources.”
Non-linear curiosity has worked for me over the years in developing passions, interests and opportunities that I would have otherwise missed. I think curiosity by definition is non-linear, yet so often it is stifled in a formal education environment that insists on a prescribed curriculum and structure.
Graduate school has been an eye-opening experience for me in more ways than one. There seems to be less emphasis on structure and a more open exploration of ideas and avenues. Now, the caveat is that I completed high school and some college work in India, went to Cal State for undergrad and am now at Harvard for grad school. It could certainly be the cultural differences between each institution that guide my judgement. I have had excellent teachers and opportunities in each of those. But now I am finally deemed old and able enough to chart my own course of learning. My performance is not measured in respect to everyone else’s. My thinking does not have to be toned up or down to suit the class average. My habit of jumping between topics, trying to connect the dots, going off on tangents is not shrugged off as ADD. In those blissful moments of solitude (I’m not a social networker 🙁 ) my laptop is my best friend and never lets me down with whatever information I might need…just in time. Wikipedia is my new bible. I’m happy to let Amazon have all my business, I love a good deal!  When I moved to Boston I found a temporary crash-pad on Airbnb. I found out online about open classes at Harvard: Ruby on Rails, GIS, foreign languages, entrepreneurship. Technology has increased my access to opportunities and made the information I digest relevant for my life choices and aspirations. It has made all of my life experiences that much richer and more productive.
I believe one way to inspire curiosity and passion amongst learners is by emphasizing interdisciplinary learning. Maybe we underestimate young students and hold back opportunities from independent learners? Maybe we subconsciously discourage students from being mature enough to pursue their own learning interests? With devices and the internet propagating just in time learning a student can revisit missed information at any point in his/her life. But it seems so important to give students the freedom to see where their interests take them, while that unfiltered curiosity still comes naturally to them. I was sharing similar thoughts with a peer who simply defined it as making a time machine available: any time, anywhere, any subject learning, about any era. It’s incredible how so few students think about the world beyond earth, how there are so few astronomy fanatics. It’s a fact staring them in the face every time they look out the window. Yet the first reaction is to ask them to concentrate on the task at hand and “refocus”. On 14th century history ?

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