Dec 2020

Knowing How to Learn Is More Important Than What You Learn

By David Zelniker

Adults students are getting education in all sorts of places. They are studying and doing their homework. Adults are learners. We learn every time we read a newspaper, watch a documentary, or eat new foods. We are constantly learning both implicitly and explicitly, in every context. But learning continuously and being taught are two entirely different things. Preparing for our conversation, I fixate on a point that Horn repeatedly makes:

We don’t learn when someone is ready to teach it to us, but when we as individuals are ready to learn. You simply can’t make someone learn who isn’t ready for it. 

I agree. But I also wonder, as we develop new adult-centered learning programs, offer new types of credentialing, and democratize the distribution of education, is it all doomed to fail with unmotivated students? Is motivation the most important learning trait?

MH: Ultimately all individuals are motivated. They all want to make progress in their lives. If we want education to be effective, it’s got to help them make progress in the areas they’re prioritizing. It can’t be the school’s or employers’ sense of progress. It has to be the individual’s sense of progress. It doesn’t mean you can’t help shape people’s priorities by shaping the context or asking interesting questions that they never thought of. But I think we can only do that if we situate ourselves in that learner’s journey of progress.


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