Learning, Power, and Fun…

“Fun is the genetic reward for learning,” according to Dr. Wm. Glasser in his book, Choice Theory. Glasser connects play and fun to learning through his theory that the need for fun was built into our genes as a reward for learning.  Humans who learn have an advantage over those who don’t. Consider the early days of the human race: the ability to learn brought with it the ability to adapt and survive.

If learning is so much fun, why do you sometimes find long, unhappy faces in places where learning is supposed to happen? Oddly, it can be easier to find evidence of fun on the sports field or in the coffee shop than in algebra class. While learning can happen anywhere, some folks never experience any connection between fun and learning in formal learning environments. Why?

Along with our need for fun are other genetic needs: survival, love & belonging, freedom, and power. We act to satisfy those needs, and you have likely noticed that it’s not always easy to satisfy all of our needs all the time.

Learning can present challenges, especially with respect to our need for power. Even the most unmotivated student or worker knows that learning is connected to power. When we “master” a topic or a skill, that mastery brings with it new power. However, if you feel that you can’t learn, or that you’ll never be able to master the skills that you need, that can leave you feeling quite vulnerable.

For example, little Suzi was doing fine in school, satisfying her needs for confidence and having fun with her learning. Then a new topic was introduced; Suzi didn’t understand, and suddenly, her whole school experience takes a turn for the worse.

Learning isn’t limited to school environments. For example, Simon was happy and comfortable at his workplace until a new computer system was suddenly introduced. He has to learn it, quickly. It’s not going well, and now Simon is definitely not comfortable at work any more.

In many situations like these, there are real consequences: if we don’t learn, we won’t succeed. Suzi may not graduate; Simon may not keep his job. For both, their feeling of confidence and control is threatened by their learning situation.

Each of us chooses behaviours in an attempt to satisfy our needs. For some, satisfying the power need simply entails getting recognition, feeling capable, and developing the confidence that comes with knowing what you are doing.

There are all sorts of behaviours that people choose in their attempt to satisfy their power need—some more effective than others. The challenge for learners such as Suzi and Simon is to choose behaviours that will be helpful in their learning struggle rather than counterproductive.

What are some behaviours that could help Suzi and Simon gain confidence and control in their situations? Perhaps…even have some fun at the same time? Next column, I’ll offer my suggestions.

Do you enjoy learning? If so, what makes it fun? If not, why not?

This article is the first in a series.
The next article in this series is here.
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