Students often ask “Why do I need to know this?” not because the subject is irrelevant, but because they struggle to learn. The answer to “How am I going to use this in real life?” depends on what their life will be like.
However, I am becoming increasingly conscious of a disquieting trend behind the questions about relevancy. Students want something that will grab their attention and draw them easily into learning. They want relief from the pressure of mental effort involved in learning – concentrating, focusing and making sense of information. Should educators play along with this trend and seek engage their students through wide range of “edutainment,” or take a different tactic?
One of the difficulties is the increasing amount of knowledge that students are supposed to master. Mastery, however, is often measured by memorization of data, rather than the ability to produce something useful from what have been taught. The tedious work that goes into building a car or researching a genealogy is bearable – even enjoyable – if there is a goal to aim towards.
In school, we supposedly learn information to expand our mind and think more deeply, and then we go on to jobs, where we learn more with the aim of gaining more money. Some people collects details of their acquaintances likes and dislikes, dealing in the social sphere to gain influence, while others seek to learn what is novel and innovative. Why the difference? We tend to learn based on how we believe it will serve us.
However, we deceive students if we let them believe learning should always be fun and entertaining. There is a discipline required to incorporate information that is not inherently interesting. Yet, this type of learning is still necessary for performing in the real world. Most jobs require careful, conscientious work or dealing with volumes of information. As Adam Timothy pointed out students become invested in educational games and learn to memorize data (like computation tables). However when it is time to apply the learning, they stay on the gaming loop and continue to play rather than produce.
The problem with disengaged students may not be with the instructional method, but the student’s lack of choice in determining a goal to work towards.