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Love for Learning

Are You An Affective Learner? 
 
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear" – Buddhist Proverb 
 
Are you an affective learner?  If you're not then you’ll struggle to become a better learner.  And it’s affective, not effective.  That’s not a typo.  They’re two different things.   However, to be an effective learner you must first become an affective learner.  

Affective learning deals with your emotions, feelings and values.  It represents the degree of acceptance or rejection you have towards the ideas and concepts in the world around you.  The affective side is vital to our learning because of the impact it has on shaping our personal beliefs. 

Becoming an affective learner is the gateway to better learning.  You must learn to care before you care to learn. 

From Receiving to Characterizing: The Affective Learner’s Journey 
 
To become a life-long learner you must be willing to regularly proceed through five learning levels, otherwise known as the affective domain of learning. 
 
Level 1 – Receiving 
 
You are aware of the existence of certain ideas, material, or phenomena. Receiving refers to your level of sensitivity towards those stimuli – are you only vaguely aware?  Are you willing to receive it all?  Do you have selected attention for certain pieces? 
 
Level 2 – Responding 
 
You are committed in part to the ideas, materials, or phenomena involved by actively responding to them.  Responding refers to your level of active attention to stimuli and your motivation to learn – do you acquiesce to the idea?  Are you a willing volunteer to the idea? 
 
Level 3 – Valuing 
 
You are willing to be perceived by others as valuing certain ideas, materials, or phenomena.  Valuing refers to your beliefs and attitudes of worth.  In other words, your acceptance, preference and/or commitment towards a specific value.  
 
Level 4 – Organizing 
 
You relate the new value to those you already hold and bring it into your belief system.  As values or beliefs become internalized, through analyzing and then balancing, you organize them according to priority. 
 
Level 5 – Characterizing 
 
You act consistently in accordance with the values you have internalized. You are capable of practicing and acting on your values or beliefs.  People can identify you by those beliefs.  At this point you will choose either to revise or avoid changing your beliefs when new information surrounding your belief becomes available. 
 
As you may have noticed from the last statement under Level 5 (Characterizing), the spectrum is a cyclical opportunity.  Every time that someone or something comes along and challenges your beliefs you have the opportunity to start again at Level 1 (Receiving).  People who are unwilling to see any belief but their own are not even at the receiving level.  To be at the receiving level you must at least be willing to listen.   

Chances are, since you’re here and reading this you’re already showing at the least that you’re receiving at an affective level. 

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose Charges your Learning Potential 
 
So maybe you’ve found the initial motivation to become a continuous learner.  If so, congratulations!  The challenge now is to continue – every day for the rest of your life – to find that motivation to learn.  That’s just a little more difficult to do.  No pressure!  So, you need a reason to persist.  Your reason to persist may be something extrinsic, like a reward system, or it may come from within, like curiosity.   

Is one way more successful than the other?   

Intrinsic motivation is volitional.  You do something because you WANT to do it.  Therefore, it is of higher quality than extrinsic motivation.  And doing something of one’s own accord makes intrinsic motivation more durable and persistent.  You are more likely to become a life-long learner because you want to, not because someone rewards you to do it – the motivation comes from within.   How intrinsically motivated you become depends on the presence of three key elements – autonomy, mastery and purpose. 

Let’s say you work in a warehouse.  The jobs that go on there are repetitive and don’t involve a great deal of thinking – you put stuff in boxes, you take stuff out of boxes.  In fact, thinking is discouraged as it upsets the system.  The rule system used hasn’t changed in 30 years.  While safety in such an environment is always the number one concern, the list of never do this or always do that is so long that it goes beyond concern for your well-being towards mindless obedience to a system.  People that work there are visibly unhappy.  You see a glimpse of brightness in your co-workers faces twice a day – lunch and quitting time.  The work that needs to be done gets done.  However, most times it just meets the standard.  Rarely does it exceed the standard.    Workers that have been there for years say how nothing has changed in the time they have been there.  There is little opportunity for promotion and recognition is limited to an occasional good job or thank you that is given to a whole group of employees, which waters down the value of that recognition since not everyone in the group deserved the praise. 

The type of motivation displayed by people in this example is certainly extrinsic.  The reason that most of these individuals get up and go there each day is simple – a pay cheque (and it wouldn’t even pay well!).  Where does a job like this fail to build an individual’s intrinsic motivation?  What would need to be done to build autonomy, mastery and purpose in order to make this a more internally rewarding place to work? 

Autonomy – Are you in control or is someone else?  In the example, the managers are in control.  They do all the thinking, everyone else does the work that comes from their decisions.  Thinking is discouraged.  It’s hard to be internally motivated when you’re focused on jumping through the hoops of others.  To improve this, management would need to provide more autonomy support.  That doesn’t mean letting the line workers do whatever they want but it does mean providing them with some opportunities to be involved in deciding on how the day to day work flow happens.  Choice – or perceived choice – is the key for autonomy. 

Mastery – How competent are you at what you do?  This is mastery.  Making a box.  Packing a box.  Lifting a box.  None of these things take a great deal of skill.  Tasks in this example warehouse are very compartmentalized and only the most senior staff get to do the really “exciting” work.  Besides the opportunity to contribute more to the decision making process, employees at this warehouse could be given the chance to share in the performance of the more interesting skills.  Instead of making specialists based on seniority, shift the focus to creating generalists and make sure that employees rotate regularly through the various tasks.  

Purpose – Are you making a difference?  Are you connecting to people?  These are the questions of purpose.  The work done in the example factory above is not lifesaving or even life changing.  People know they aren’t making a difference in the world by doing what they do.  The challenge here is to bring pride into the warehouse equation.  If employees have more autonomy and are mastering as much as they can then that in itself may provide a boost to pride.  There are other ways to instill pride.  In a warehouse such as the one mentioned above, there is a great deal of garbage created.  Much of that could be, but isn’t, recycled.  This warehouse could make it a mandate to become a leader in the industry for recycling – something that workers may then be able to puff out their chests and lift their heads high about. 

The workers at this warehouse will never get paid very much.  Management can’t rely on extrinsic motivation to get the job done well.  Instead they could focus on intrinsic motivation through the development of autonomy, mastery and purpose. 
Autonomy, mastery and purpose are like energy.  You can raise or lower them and in doing so, raise or lower intrinsic motivation.  The potential for this AMP (autonomy, mastery, purpose) to charge your learning potential is enormous.  Just knowing this can help you begin the journey towards becoming a better learner.   And if you are in a position that involves the practice of inspiring others (e.g., coach, facilitator, teacher), it can help you to get the best from them as well.