Why Some People Don’t Learn Anything In College


I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who seem to have learned nothing during four years at university. Until recently I’ve wondered how it was possible, but now I think I understand.

People who learn a lot in college are the people who had questions floating around in their heads before they got there. They’re curious. They have a sense of wonder about the world. As such, when answers (or provocations) are offered, they are subconsiously paired with their natural curiosity, and learning ensues.

Those who don’t benefit from school simply aren’t tuned to the world’s questions, and as such they are unable to appreciate potential answers. I finally groked this when I asked myself why I didn’t learn more in my programming classes in college.

The reason is now very clear: it wasn’t interesting to me. I thought I was going to be a sysadmin, or a “networking” guy. I didn’t really know what I was going to be, but I was damn sure it wasn’t going to be a programmer.

Because of this I went on autopilot, i.e. the mode where you say to your brain, “Temporarily absorb the minimum required to get the grade you want in this class. Nothing more.”…and that’s no way to learn.

So what’s the answer? The answer is for parents and teachers to foster within children curiosity and interest in a wide range of subjects. Don’t impart knowledge, per say, but the thirst for understanding. This way, when the opportunity to learn something presents itself it will be embraced enthusiastically instead of being ignored or mechanically processed for a short-term goal.

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