The heady pleasures of learning

The heady pleasures of learning

The heady pleasures of learning. Image from

In a previous post I said I would return to the role of emotion in learning, since I had been thinking about differences between human interaction in on and off-line teaching.

As many will know, Krashen’s affective filter hypothesis has been very influential here. According to Krashen, if the student is anxious or demotivated, this filter goes up and will hinder second language learning. If they are relaxed and confident, this filter is low and they will learn more.

This implies that the absence of this filter is the optimum state for learning. But I wonder if there is such a thing as a positive filter.

Are there positive emotional factors which speed up and enhance learning rather than negative ones which prevent it?

What happens if you simply enjoy the sound of the language, or adore using Skype, or (whisper it) fancy your teacher a little bit?

Perhaps this would be more like a funnel, something which intensifies the learning experience, rather than a filter.

Taxonomies and hypotheses can also be fairly reductive in their language, dissecting and classifying complex experiences so they are less recognisable. Learning is exciting; learning theory, for some reason, is not, or not in the same way.

Instead I would go to literature for descriptions of the heady pleasures of learning. Here is John Williams’s literature academic William Stoner at the start of a new project:

He was in the stage of planning his study, and it was that stage which gave him the most pleasure-the selection among alternative approaches, the rejection of certain strategies, the mysteries and uncertainties that lay in unexplored possibilities, the consequences of choice… The possibilities he could see so exhilarated him that he could not keep still. He got up from his desk, paced a little, and in a kind of frustrated joy spoke to his daughter, who looked up from her book and answered him.

Stoner (2012, originally published 1965) London: Vintage p.123.

A S Byatt’s books also often meditate on the mental and physical pleasures of learning, and whether it is possible to describe these.

I also wonder if a negative filter can actually be a spur to learning. For example, I spent two hours last night scowling my way through a Spanish lesson I considered sub-standard (no pair or group work, all led from the front, no revision, no variety in pace, no clear learning objectives). I admit I am not very good in these situations, and it is easy to be critical. But perhaps this frustration could help me to be more determined to learn the language. Although it is not a sound experimental approach, I will be my own guinea pig.

October 24, 2015