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Learning with Joy

Learning with joy” is the opening motto on the new AEL website and it has been one of the features of the AEL project right from the beginning.

What does learning have to do with joy?

Is learning something serious that is not to be confused with entertainment?

It is certainly true that the joy I am speaking about is not to be confused with entertainment, if with the latter we mean a superficial way to spend our time without thinking or worrying too much (which sometimes even a welcome time, perhaps).

The joy related to learning is an emotional condition that has the capacity to enhance learning by giving the learner the feeling of wellbeing, satisfaction, harmony.

When I was at school! -quite a long time ago…- there was no way to even think of such a connection.

Even when I started the AEL project in 1998 based on “Learning by doing, learning with joy, learning from real life”, I do not remember to have read anything about the relation between learning and joy from any Author except one: this was Rudolf Steiner. 

In his first course for teachers in 1919 in Stuttgart, he said that learning has to be consistent and full of joy the same as a musician plays repeatedly several times the same piece, being never bored but every time enjoying his production!

This is what every lesson should be: a piece of music that musicians (teachers and learners) are never bored to play, but always enjoy to repeat and make alive again!

Many decades later the attention on the relation between joy and learning has become a focus for teachers and scientists as well as for families.

I will refer here to three Authors out of the many Researchers who contributed to develop a deeper insight of the relation between joy and learning in the last two decades.


#1 “Re-humanise Learning”

The article “Are Happier Students Better Performers?” -written by Shan Yahanpath (student) and Dr Shantha Yahanpath of the Sydney Business School (www.sbs.edu.au)- is available on the blog of Stanford University “Tomorrow’s Professor Postings” and openly encourages teachers to “re-humanise” learning in order to achieve happiness and satisfaction, two ground elements that underlie better learning performances.

“The (modern) impersonal method of teaching and its contents have led to the result that the learning experience become dry, bored and limited to subject matter” 

They indicate the hypothesis that “we negated happiness by ‘de-humanising the learning experience'” and suggest that the direction of the future educations is to re-humanise the learning process!

If this is correct, the question becomes: “what are the methods of “re-humanising” the learning process?”

The first step -they write in their article- is to go “back to the past” and apply the “face-to-face” strategy.  On this direction “teachers can be empowered in their roles as holistic educators and become positive mentors for their students, providing understanding, empathy and encouragement.


#2 Building a Sense of Community

A second Author, Rebecca Alber co-editor of Edutopia, refers to the findings of Dr. David Rock to support her conclusion. She highlights the relevance of  building a sense of community within the class and suggests to design group guidelines together. A third advice from Rebecca is to identify some non-negotiable points -such as name-calling and teasing- with the aim of giving children the feeling of a safe environment.


#3 Promoting Positivity, Hope and Optimism

As third source I selected an article from the blog “Waldorf Education” that cites Dr. Timothy Sharpalso known as “Dr. Happy” for his work on Positive Psycology.

In his Education Review article, Promoting Positivity in The Classroom, he overturns one of the modern education paradigma:

“modern educators have classically confused the order of well-being and achievement — thinking accomplished students will feel a sense of well-being when in fact, students who have well-being accomplish more.”

“In the same article Dr. Sharp defines practical ways to refocus and foster well-being in class, such as:

• Develop a positive student/teacher relationship with each student.

• Engage students with relevant, interesting and compelling lessons.

• Help students identify their strengths. Specifically look for strengths in past experiences and discuss how to use them in future learning.

• Make students feel special while avoiding providing empty praise such as “you are so smart.”

• Cultivate hope and optimism by reminding the student of previous successes from hard work.”


So, we have discovered today three main keys that in the near future can lead to a good practice in education at school and at home:

  • re-humanising the education and rediscover the benefit of the face-to-face relation;
  • building an harmonious community where every single child feels special;
  • cultivating hope and optimism.

As simple as that!“, someone might say. I agree: as simple as that. In fact in education simple and little things are really effective.

Larger reforms are also needed but it would be sufficient for our kids if we address our efforts towards those three challenges and put them into our daily practice.

The theme in this post was “Learning with Joy” and we found why we should and how we could create a safe, enjoyable environment to enhance the learning experience of our students.

There is however the other side of the coin to take into account: the “Joy of Learning” or, I daresay, learning is a source of joy, when it occurs in a positive healthy process and environment.

In other words the relation between learning and joy is bidirectional: a happy, well-being condition is a good environment to enhance the learning experience; a good learning process generates joy, happiness, well-being. And self-esteem!


If you have arrived to the end of this post, you may be interested to take part to a discussion about this topic by sending your contribution.

In waiting for the next post, enjoy this one!

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