A Passion for Learning

Q2- 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 find the framework of self-determination theory to be pretty compelling. The theory holds that Autonomy, Mastery, and Relatedness are the keys to human happiness. In turn, this can allow people to feel relaxed and curious and free to pursue their goals. A great deal of the variance in educational outcomes can be explained by socio-economic factors. Children who come to school hungry or have knowledge of a murder that has occurred nearby are likely to do poorly in school, no matter how good their teachers are. Should their home lives be fraught and unstable, things get even worse. These children have no sense of their own autonomy, and even if they have a sense that they are related to their local communities, they may not feel very connected to the society around them.

Once we have accounted for acceptable levels of the three poles, I think perspective and meta-cognition are key to helping people follow their passions. Very often, human beings are bad at context switching, and even though they may have had an extraordinary time participating in an activity or working on a project, they may lack the awareness to notice that joy or that curiosity, let alone to follow up on it. For goodness sake, there’s empirical evidence that just passing through a doorway can make us forget things. To combat this, and to feed our need for relatedness, I think learners must be socially ensconced. Friends and family are great resources for helping people think through their goals and desires. The more of those people that have a capacity to be active mentors and the more that the setting of goals is valued and discussed, the more successful everyone will be.

Finally, the world must continue to reveal wonders and mysteries. This doesn’t look to abate any time soon.

As for the web, it can obviously bring these mysteries and wonders into people’s homes and live much more quickly and greater volume than ever before. It can also bring people together who may never have met in another time. Less romantically though, the web may be used to steer resources to the people who need them most. There is a great deal of evidence that, left unchecked, technology will widen the gap between haves and have-nots, but there remains hope that this is an early problem, and not a permanent one.


  • Environments: Civic spaces, private spaces, and virtual spaces.
  • Activities: Sense-making, rehearsing, and failing.
  • Interactions: Seeking, questioning, and connecting,
  • Objects: Tools, evocative objects, and media
  • Users: The puppy, the job-seeker, and the dead end


Environments: Learning can happen anywhere. Some environments are better served for making you reflect on your learning and connecting you with others. Environments where risk-taking is available and safe(ish) is also key.

Activities: Only the last part of learning looks like success. Mostly, learning is a mess and making meaning is hard, by yourself and with others, especially as the ideal state is that everyone has changed by the end of the process.

Interactions: While these terms could be applied to technological systems, I chose interactions that could be conducted between people. I just don’t buy that our brains have changed that much over time—we intrinsically seek each other and to solve problems.

Objects: I find this to be a strange one, but I gave it a shot. Much of the learning we do with our bodies is neglected and left unstudied, but the wonder we derive from the physical world is a key component of learning. Similarly, the physical expertise craftspeople develop with tools is a great reminder of how thinking can get in the way, but how we must sometimes unlearn what we have learned to use a tool better or achieve a new insight.

Users: People seeking the Media Lab brand for learning, an expertise  that may not be fully established, will attract some obvious typologies. The enthusiastic but uncritical puppy must not be disappointed. The job seeker (and other pragmatists) must feel confident that their time is not being wasted. The dead end must be shaken awake from her student-as-repository model and inducted into the messy world of learning from and teaching to others.