I’ll learn … but why?

I always wondered why there are some students highly motivated and some students seemed to be bothered by the class they chose. Viktor E. Frankl postulated in his masterpiece “Mens search for meaning” that the meaning behind an action is highly important for the one acting and can provide the power to go through with something. Nietzsche already talked about that when he said “He, who knows why, can bare almost any how.” (“Götzen-Dämmerung”)

So my question is: “Do students always know why they ought to learn a certain topic?”

Asking this question a couple teachers I got different answers. One of the most told answers is: “They will need this in their future life”. In their what? How do they know? We train students for a future that nobody can say nothing about. Most graduates take on jobs that didn’t even exist four years ago. And even if they need a specific knowledge for their future life, how are they suppose to know why they are learning this? Most teachers don’t even know themselves. So how are students supposed to imagine why they ought to learn it?

My personal experience have taught me (painfully) that there are things in life you learn and you WILL need it later. I rejected math classes as far as I could back then, when I started to do some graphical programming it dawned on me that all that math is worth something. Especially matrices haunted me.

I guess if I would have been told an example, for instance something breathtaking within 3D graphics or something like that, I would have brought up more motivation for that topic. Especially if I would have discovered by my own why I need that.

Dan Meyer has reconstructed a math lecture so that his students have to develop the formula for a calculation themselves instead of just giving it away and let them fill in the values. That shows that finding out for yourself forces you to really dig in the topic. So it seems the reason why a student is learning is strongly tied to the creation process of intrinsic motivation. The next question in my eyes would be if an intrinsic motivation could be supported or even created by computer systems?

What do you think? Please comment!

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