Is Learning Work or Fun?

I’ve been doing some research about self-directed learning, and I came across an article[1] that talked about the cultural differences between the US and Japan in terms of how people view learning. In North America, we tend to see learning as a means to an end: We go to school so that we can learn the skills to get a good job. Learning is hard work. Once we are in a job, we participate in ongoing professional development so that we can get better at our job.

In Japan, learning is viewed as entertainment. It’s fun to learn. Apparently, at the company the researcher was looking at, the employer would provide financial support for its employees to access learning of any sort. The employee doesn’t need to make a case that a particular training session would have applicability in their job; there is an understanding that learning of any kind strengthens employees. Engaging in learning leads to people seeing themselves as learners, and being more motivated and enthusiastic about self-improvement.  While our businesses lament that they need more employees that possess these qualities of self-direction, North American practice actually seems to inhibit the development of the kind of mindset that we claim to desire.

This made me think about Restitution, and how learning and fun are lumped together as one of the basic needs. This used to puzzle me, as I certainly had the mindset that learning was work. But the more I reflect, the more I think about university courses where I worked incredibly hard, but didn’t learn a thing. It was all busy work. I also recall courses that my friends made fun of because they were so much fun, were graded as a pass/fail, and didn’t require a heavy amount of reading or essay-writing, yet they were some of the courses in which I learned the most.

I also think about our perception of children when they behave inappropriately, and we want them to learn a better way. We are concerned that the message isn’t getting through if kids feel too happy in fixing their mistakes. We feel that they can’t really be learning unless they are experiencing enough discomfort to remember the lesson.

Have we got it all wrong?

How might things be different if we viewed learning not as painful, goal-oriented activity, but instead as something that was desirable and enjoyable?


[1] Beitler, M.A. (2000) Self-Directed Learning Readiness at General Motors Japan. Retrieved from: http//



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