The Beatles played 10,000 hours of music before they recorded their first song. They played the same songs over and over in bars every day for years, until they mastered their instruments.
Their road to mastery began with picking up a guitar. Strumming the guitar strings led to playing music instead of noise. After each member mastered their own instrument, they formed a group and soared even higher, attracting the attention of the world.
Mastery of any skill is hard work. It requires a belief that hard work is worth the effort and that absolute mastery is impossible to attain. We always fall short of some aspect of our goals, yet we continue to strive for excellence in things we enjoy doing.
As online teachers, we must create fun activities that our students have a chance to master. We need to design lessons in such a way that students can pick our course and march step by step through each lesson to a mastery of our content.
Students are motivated to take our courses when they believe that mastery is within reach. To help them believe that success in our course is possible, we can provide clear goals, immediate feedback on their progress, and challenges which match their abilities.
When we provide clear goals, feedback and appropriate challenges, students not only enjoy their work, they do it better and are more engaged. When students are completely engaged in an activity, they enter a state of mind called flow.
Daniel Pink describes flow as a moment when, “the relationship between what a person had to do and what he could do was perfect. The challenge wasn’t too easy. Nor was it too difficult. It was a notch or two beyond his current abilities, which stretched the body and mind in a way that made the effort itself the most delicious reward […]
That balance produced a degree of focus and satisfaction that easily surpassed other, more quotidian, experiences. In flow, people lived so deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self melted away.
They were autonomous, of course. But more than that, they were engaged. They were, as the poet W.H. Auden wrote, ‘forgetting themselves in a function’ […]
The shrewdest enterprises afford employees the freedom to sculpt their jobs in ways that bring a little bit of flow to otherwise mundane duties. […] By reframing aspects of their duties, they helped make work more playful and more fully their own.
One source of frustration in the workplace is the frequent mismatch between what people must do and what people can do. When what they must do exceeds their capabilities, the result is anxiety. When what they must do falls short of their capabilities, the result is boredom”.
In his book Drive, researcher Pink says that a key obstacle to obtaining a state of flow is the need to comply with the wishes and demands of other people.
He states that, “While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement”.
Most people will engage voluntarily in activities that interest them and offer meaning and fulfillment. But not everybody.
Some people take on challenging activities because they believe they can solve new problems. They believe that the intelligence necessary to solve the problems of life can be developed through hard work.
Other people, however, quit working when things get difficult because they think they are not smart enough to master new tasks or knowledge. Or sometimes they just do not want to do the work necessary to accomplish difficult tasks.
Part of our job as educators is to demonstrate that intelligence can be increased through hard work. We can tell our own story of growing from novice to professional in our fields. We can model learning and literacy strategies that anyone can use when confronted with new knowledge.
The truth is that intelligence has little to do with our success in life. Researchers studying cadets at West Point military academy found that, “The best predictor of success at West Point was the cadets’ ratings on a non-cognitive, non-physical trait known as ‘grit’ – defined as ‘perseverance and passion for long-term goals’”.
Our belief system and emotional approach to life is more important to ultimate success in life than our intellectual abilities. We are not brains on a stick. We are emotional and psychological beings with brains.
Even really brainy professionals need to have personal motivation to work beyond their paycheck.
Daniel Pink points this out. He writes that, “In a study of 11,000 industrial scientists and engineers working at companies in the United States found that the desire for intellectual challenge – that is, the urge to master something new and engaging – was the best predictor of productivity.
Scientists motivated by this intrinsic desire filed significantly more patents than those whose main motivation was money.”
Not every student will be intrinsically motivated to be in our classes (they shouldn’t have to take the class if they do not want to), but they should have knowledge presented to them in such a way that grabs their attention and supports each step of learning from their current level of knowledge to a mastery of the content by the end of the course.
Once we do that, our students must prove to themselves they have the grit to master the challenges of life, one step at a time.