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.
What is next weeks topic?
Introduction to LQ
A Discussion about learning and Learning Quotient
Definition of LQ:
The ability to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs.
It is easy to imagine the effects of a “toxic” learning environment, one where the learner is not able to access the learning or meet their learning needs. To begin with imagine what happens when the learner is excluded from the learning opportunities. Any explanation or instruction may be impossible to understand, as if spoken in a foreign language (“Blah, blah, blab bla”). Any activities look impossible to complete and actions impossible to mimic as if watching some strange dance being performed without music, rhythm, or purpose.
By describing the extreme, the most toxic of learning environments, my aim is to help you in recognising small elements within “every day” learning situations where learning is inhibited. The typical response of teachers in such situations is to explain, to see the lack of learning as a lack of understanding, to go over things again and perhaps vary the language or the example. I hope you can see how limited this approach is. The question is how can the teacher respond when the learner does not “get it”, they do not show or develop an understanding? Are we to assume the learner is incapable of learning? Do we look for a fault, a reason, to apportion blame for not learning? Do we, as teachers, give up? (A recent article looks at this issue through the concept of “Mindful Teaching”, see: http://wp.me/p2LphS-om )
It is my belief that learners soon recognise what they understand and what learning environments they can learn within.
Learners also instinctively relate the outcome to effort but in doing so they make value judgments about the learning.
The internal dialogue goes something like this “If the learning benefits me I will make an effort to learn.”
When I talk of benefiting the learner I am referring to meeting their needs[i] and briefly describe these as:
- Belonging – to a group, of having an identity.
- Freedom – to choose, to have options, and to make decisions.
- Fun – to enjoy what is happening.
- Power – to be heard or listened to. To be acknowledged in a way that provides recognition of emotions.
This graphic, part of the “Understanding and Managing Learning Needs” CPD course and e-book, shows how these needs influence the learner and acts as a reminder to the teacher t0 plan to meet those needs.
I suggest that where a learner does not have some of these needs met for some of the time they will begin to withdraw from the learning environment, they limit their interaction and reduce their efforts. It’s easy for us to remember to include ways of meeting these in our teaching. The acronym PBCF is remembered using the mnemonic “Please Be Child Friendly”.
As a learner, and once this process of withdrawal begins, we have to rationalise what is happening, especially if we are in a group and others “get it” and we don’t. This is where the work and theories of Carol Dweck [ii] come into play. I believe learners attribute learning to “aptitude” as a way of rationalising their inability to learn within the learning environment they find themselves in.
Learners begin to build their own mental map of learning which says “I cannot learn this.” The reason they give for this inability to learn is attributed to some something within them which they either have or do not have. They begin to see no reason for making any effort because no matter how hard they may try they will never “get it.” In their own learning map they have created they have laid down the foundations for future learning. Sadly for most it is limiting rather than exploratory. They have established boundaries and fences rather than a desire to see what is over the horizon. Hopefully you are asking, “What can be done about this situation?”
One response of educationalists has been to describe learners as having “learning styles” or describe their aptitude as “Multiple Intelligence”. Some have advocated teaching students according to their styles. This approach has received both support and derision. I happen to believe there is something in it but see it as a way of describing the symptoms of the problem and not the root cause. To me a preferred style suggests a “learning need” outside of the four I have mentioned earlier and it also suggests an aspect of “LQ” the learner has already identified but without recognising it.
The lack of recognition of LQ is because no one has described or discussed it with the learner.
In my own work where I have explained to learners the concept of LQ and impact it has on their learning and even more importantly what they can do about it the results have been nothing short of remarkable. Whilst I have no empirical evidence to support my concept of LQ other than decades of teacher, the very idea speaks to those I have worked with in a powerful way. It can bring adult learners to tears and it can give new energy to young learners because it explains to them and gives them the tools to do something about their learning mental maps and beliefs about what they can and cannot learn.
As teachers or as those who manage learning environments we can do something about creating the conditions for LQ to flourish. I am not suggesting the multiple learning styles approach but instead introducing the concept of LQ to learners and then giving them the room within the learning environment we manage to exercise it.
I am advocating the creation of a learning environment where we empower the learner, where we pass the responsibility of learning back to them. Not in a way that leaves them “high and dry”, or in a “sink or swim” situation but in a way where they have the knowledge and understanding of LQ and are skilled in managing their own learning environment.
I hope you are now wondering how to create a learning environment which is LQ rich and supportive for your learners. Just what this looks and feels like I will explore next. You can download a leaflet introducing LQ here. About LQ
Keep up to date
This is the first of many articles on the concept of LQ (Learning Intelligence) as proposed by ace-d.
You can view a summary Piktochart details the benefits of LQ
I would be pleased to hear any comments or receive any questions you may have about LQ.
I am available for conferences, workshops, TeachMeets, plenaries, online training, course design, webinars, and consulting. Your organisation can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss arrangements.
There are now many articles covering a range of aspects of LQ. Move forward through the blog to find out about links between LQ and resilience, empathy, designing, boredom and many more.
Research evidence: Education Endowment Foundation reports that Meta-cognition and self-regulation have a “high impact based on extensive evidence” http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/meta-cognitive-and-self-regulation-strategies/
[i] My book “Understanding Learning Needs” covers these aspects in more detail and provides for practical reflection and analysis for the teacher on meeting these needs for the learners in their charge. It is available from www.ace-d.co.uk – Go to News and Downloads page where you will see the link. Since it is in pdf format you will receive your copy instantly.
Please also see the work of William “Glasser Choice Theory in the Classroom” on which this work is based.
[ii] According to Dweck, individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Some believe their success is based on innate ability; these are said to have a “fixed” theory of intelligence (fixed mindset). Others, who believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness are said to have a “growth” or an “incremental” theory of intelligence (growth mindset). Individuals may not necessarily be aware of their own mindset, but their mindset can still be discerned based on their behaviour.
Summary source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Dweck