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 love running, but I didn’t when I started three years ago. Learning to love it required specific conditions:
- inspiration: I was grieving and needed a release. I wanted to start running but was a terrible runner.
- equipment: To feel comfortable running, I had to buy running shoes, clothes, and a tiny ipod that fit in my pocket.
- easy access to the right environment: I was living a block away from Central Park. It was fall – ideal running weather.
- a concrete goal: I decided to train for a half marathon. I paid for the registration and plane ticket.
- encouragement: A friend convinced me running a half marathon was actually possible and helped me through the training.
- a schedule: I had a training plan that I felt obligated to stick to. At first it was aspirational (I figured I could abandon it anytime), but after a few weeks it started to seem feasible – and I started to enjoy it and look forward to the long runs.
- a result: It felt great finishing the race.
I believe that curiosity and passion start with an inspiration or need. A user might come to a learning platform already inspired to learn something, but a platform could also generate the inspiration to learn. Think of a site like Pinterest or Kickstarter — users browse through content without a specific notion of what they’re looking for, seeking something that inspires them as a starting point for engagement. When learning a new skill, learners must have access to certain equipment and environments to get started. The platform could have these elements built in or provide a way to access them in the real world. We begin to really enjoy doing things after we’ve already developed a basic competency and are able to see our progress and begin to explore further on our own. Getting to this point requires encouragement from a mentor or peers. Goals and schedules can also help motivate us through the early, most challenging, stages of learning. Finally, getting to showcase the results of what we’ve accomplished serves as a reward that makes learning feel more concrete and worthwhile. A learning platform should ideally enable the formation of a community that would both motivate us through the learning process and serve as an audience for the results of our learning.