Learning Intelligence (LQ) and the link to Boredom
If you arrived at this page because you Googled “bored” read on you may find out why you feel that way. At the very least you will waste another 10 minutes but you will look as though you are doing something!
Down to business
Can boredom really have anything to do with learning and can you learn if you are bored?
The common thinking is that if you are bored you are not going to learn and, whilst this may be true, boredom can come about for a number of different reasons within the learning process and all of them have something to do with you learning environment and LQ. Let me explain.
Sometime ago I read an article that suggested boredom, or a session of being bored was actually good for you. This is something as a father I used often when my children complained of being bored. “I am bored!” was met with the quick reply, “Excellent, it is part of growing up and is good for you. Enjoy the opportunity.” Not always a welcome reply but it certainly did the trick. I could even claim to be a good parent because I created or provided the opportunity for boredom – result. I have come to give this notion some more thought as I have explored the concept of LQ. Can boredom be a good thing? The short answer is “It depends.” A bit of a cop-out answer in one way but in another it does highlight the need to explore what boredom actually is and why it occurs.
It would be childish to ask if I am boring you but I have anyway!
I hope you are still with me as I suggest why boredom can occur. Let us start by suggesting boredom is the result of a lack of interest in what is going on around us, a type of response like anxiety or fear or excitement. We may feel in some way, and for some reason, excluded from those events happening right now and within our current environment. Another word that springs to mind is “engagement”, we are not engaged whether physically or mentally with whatever it is we are meant to be doing at a given point in time when the state of boredom is experienced.
Exclusion from learning can occur for a number of reasons but one that appears to be very important is an understanding of what is going on. To one person who sees and understands what is happening around them the moments may be filled with an immense amount of information, all of it of interest to them. They may be taking part in an activity which brings them pleasure or enjoyment and time may mean nothing to them, as it appears to pass quickly. Sir Ken Robinson refers to this as being in your “element”[i] . Being in your element is described as a point where natural talent meets personal passion. Certainly people who are in their element would be most unlikely to describe themselves as being bored. Having a talent often encourages you to keep practicing or researching or taking an interest in whatever that talent is related to. A talented footballer may have an interest in all things football related: statistics, players, news, transfers etc. They may notice things those who are not interested in or do not have a talent for football ever acknowledge or recognise. They are very aware of their environment and as a result take (learn) more from it.
People who claim to be bored, I mean genuinely bored not those who would rather be doing something else and so claim boredom as a strategy to move on, can be recognised by their show of a lack of interest in what is going on. This could be demonstrated by a reluctance to be verbally engaged or even being very vocal indeed. If you are a teacher you will recognise that look that some students display from time to time, the one that says “Go away, I am not interested, even if you spontaneously combusted on the spot I would continue to stare into space.” You have to be careful though because of the “pseudo-boredom” look too, the one that is peer group generated because it is not something the group is interested in and therefore neither am I, it is not “cool”. This is different altogether and more interest may be taken than you realise.
One of our natural needs is to be involved in something, to have fun, and if it is not being met in what is happening then other distractions are looked for. Teachers will be well aware of this when they think of disruptive students in their lessons. The boredom may come about because they may have experienced the same thing before, perhaps many times, so there is nothing new in it for them and no challenge. They may have tried to understand whatever it is, failed, and therefore decided it is not for them and no longer try to engage, too big a challenge.
Although not an in-depth answer I hope I have given you something to think about in terms of what boredom is and why it occurs.
Let us have a look at the next question “Can boredom be a good thing?”
Yes if you recognise it as a symptom of not being able to engage in whatever is going on in your environment and do something about.
No if you do nothing about trying to find a way to engage and ignore possible learning opportunities that surround you. I find there is always something to learn no matter where I am and what I am doing (ever wondered why “people watching” is so fascinating and popular?). Being disengaged means to drift and to miss opportunities.
Just asking yourself the question “Why do I feel this way?” when you are bored is a good start, you are beginning to re-engage with your environment. Just be aware that finding the answer is always the difficult part. Here are some possible questions that will help you find the answers to why you may experience boredom.
1) Do I understand what is going on? This may involve understanding any prior learning that is required. Not understanding may indicate revision or re visiting the topic in a different way.
2) Am I interested in what is going on? You may be absolutely familiar with the topic or activity and it may hold no new challenge for you. Should you be here and are you ready to move onto something new? If you are ready to move on why haven’t you?
3) Am I distracted by something else? It is quite possible your mind is elsewhere, some other event has got you thinking and you are unable to follow what is going on around you. You may “tune out” and miss aspects which ultimately leads to you being excluded from what is going on around you and you lose interest.
4) Are any or all of my needs being met?[ii] The four key ones are; a) Engagement or fun, b) Choice or freedom, c) Being heard or power and d) Being recognised for who you are, belonging.
5) Are any or all of my learning needs being met? This is the heart of LQ, being able to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs. A review of earlier posts will help you understand this aspect in relation to being engaged and limit boredom.
What this means for the Teacher
1) See an exhibition of boredom as a symptom and not behaviour to be challenged. Some learners, including those recognised as gifted or talented, may have already understood have prior learning and need to move on and be challenged. Have you pitched the lesson at the correct level or are your resources able to provide challenge to the entire class?
2) Resist requiring a public demonstration of understanding from those who appear bored. This does little to build or maintain relationships with the learners and can only serve to alienate you, as they will no longer be willing to trust you.
3) Ask probing questions or those that require synthesis of the material to those that appear bored in order to show even though they may understand what is happening now there is more to the topic should they challenge themselves.
4) Help learners to recognise that boredom is a signal to do something about their learning environment, about applying their LQ.
What this means for the Learner
1) Learn to recognise boredom as a feeling that you should do something about and not an indication that you cannot learn or that you do not have to make an effort to learn. Both beliefs are limiting your potential in the topic. With the right approach (LQ) and effort you have a better chance of learning or gaining a deeper understanding of the topic.
2) If you are experiencing boredom then find an opportunity to explain your feelings to your teacher. They may well have noticed your behaviour and a conversation can reassure both of you that you still want to learn and provide a possible pathway and maybe a new challenge or new approach.