Danish expert sheds light on boredom in the classroom

Belinda Bantham -- Thu, 05/04/2017 - 16:07

Danish expert sheds light on boredom in the classroom

“The optimism that most children are born with – the joy of learning, playing and simply living when they are small – gradually diminishes for many learners. This happens if they sense that, no matter how much they try to do well in school, they can’t succeed.”
These are the words of Prof Hans Henrik Knoop, extraordinary professor at the Optentia Research Focus Area on the North-West University’s (NWU’s) campus in Vanderbijlpark.

Prof Knoop is also an associate professor (with distinction) at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, and is highly regarded for his expertise in positive education. He recently visited the campus in Vanderbijlpark where he delivered three guest lectures. One of his lectures took a closer look at boredom in the academic context.

Prof Hans Henrik Knoop recently delivered three guest lectures at the NWU’s campus in Vanderbijlpark.

According to Prof Knoop there can be distinguished between healthy and unhealthy boredom just as the way that one can distinguish between healthy and unhealthy stress. His research focuses on ways of learning that are intrinsically motivated to such an extent to not undermine further interest. Having spent the last 15 years researching and teaching in the field of positive psychology, Prof Knoop offers unique insights into this challenge.

He says boredom is an emotion that prompts you to change something, much like any other emotion does. When boredom is short term and moderate, it can act as an inspirational force for all kinds of creativity in day-to-day life. However, it becomes problematic when it is experienced in the long term. Long-term boredom can have various negative side effects, including depression and motivational problems.

Prof Knoop believes that boredom in the classroom manifests when the learner feels incapable of taking corrective action when experiencing boredom. When the physical school environment does not have a pedagogy that is exploratory and interesting, the prevalence of boredom tends to be higher.
As a solution, he looked at the effort that a child would put into playing: the combination of applying effort and having a good time while doing so (an element of playing). Such pedagogy would provide for psychologically sustainable educational practice and would lead to pupils not getting tired of learning.

This is not something that the teacher can deal with on his or her own. It is a systemic problem with 200-year roots in many countries. Once we understand that we all have a common interest in such a system, the teacher can be a key person in creating a culture of sharing a problem and inviting the learner to be an active part of the solution.

His main advice is that the key to all successful education is maintaining the joy of learning.  The educational process may be in jeopardy should the joy of learning be lost.  A learning environment in which learning is a joy, will be conducive to learning even when more difficult subject matter is on the table. Prof. Knoop’s second suggestion is to focus primarily on the quality of the process of learning and secondarily on the result. If the primary learning activity is motivational in itself, learners will be more optimistic and motivated in everything that they apply themselves to.
Read more about the International Boredom Project that is currently running at the Optentia Research Focus Area:  http://www.optentia.co.za/project.php?id=OQ%3D%3D