July 1, 2011

“I’m Bored!”

Posted in Learning tagged at 10:00 am by kristibroom

It is summer vacation for the 3 school-age children in my household. Though we’re all adapting to the newfound freedom they have from a daily schedule, it’s not without challenges. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve heard “I’m bored!”

I’ve been thinking about this lately. For my kids, it’s not really a lack of potential activities that is causing their “boredom.” In fact, there are many activity choices that they like to do. I think what’s really underlying their complaints is indecision of what to do, because no one is directing their time.

In school, days are controlled by class schedules, teachers, and assignments. They move from one to the next to the next. And surely during each day, there are points when they get “bored” and their minds drift to other things. But the day moves on.

Now think about the way learning has shifted. In the past, training courses looked a lot like our school days: the curriculum was prescribed, and the instructor helped direct learners from one activity to the next. And just like school kids, our learners would drift in and out of rapt attention to the subject matter. Every trained instructor knows of the “deer in the headlights” look, and every good instructor has an abundance of techniques and activities to help remove that look from the learners’ faces.

And then came elearning. And then self-directed learning. And gone were the days of prescriptive scheduling with an instructor to lead us through it. And we’ve started to hear “I’m bored!” In elearning, there is no one to see the look that accompanies boredom, so no quick and easy remedy. After all, if there is a lesson that must be completed, and the learner would like to take a brain break, the “Next” button does still need to be clicked in order to make progress. And if the learner doesn’t do that, who will?

I’m not here to launch an argument on whether elearning is boring. However, I did enjoy this recent blog post from Allen Interactions titled “Declare Your Independence from Boring e-Learning.”

Regardless of whether the content is boring, I think learners, just like my kids, are reacting to the need to direct their own learning, which seems to be a new experience. I think there are a couple of solutions. Certainly, the more we can prevent boring elearning, the better it will be for everyone. I think another solution is to teach people to self-direct their attention. When they are feeling the deer in the headlights look come over them, they *should* get up and take a break, or find some way to divert attention. When they have a question, they *should* have access to a resource who can provide an answer.

Like with my kids, the answer is not hard. And, like with my kids, intervention from someone else is not always necessary to solve the boredom issue. We can provide opportunities to build the skills necessary to learn in an environment where not only is learning not prescribed, but we have many sources of distraction while we are learning. The ability to determine what, when, and in what order we learn is a skill that should start early, but if not, is one we should continue to reinforce in order to create lifelong, excited learners.