Learning Methodologies Unpacked: Passion-based Learning

Passion based learning is one of the elements of learning innovation that we are most…well…passionate about. Passion is the reason for learning, the core of ikigai, and the thing that makes the whole process of learning so organic. But what is it exactly, and is this something which is core or complementary to learning?
Learning Methodologies Unpacked: Passion-based Learning

Passion-based learning sounds quite self explanatory, does it not? Just the phrase communicates the essentials: that we are learning new things by pursuing something we are passionate about. Just how that works in a learning environment, however, is something you will see a lot of debate around. 

Let’s go back to the heady days of 2004. Google had just gone public as a company, and the web was awash with images of their employees resting in nap pods, and the term “business hammock” suddenly entered our lexicon. 

All that quirkiness upset the traditionally grey corporate sensibilities and drew headlines, but the real game changer was the programme they introduced called  20 percent time. The idea was that the team would be able to dedicate 20% of their working time to passion projects, which may or may not actually pay off for the company. 

The idea, based on 3M’s 15% time some years before, was that this non-linear approach would inevitably yield some new products or services and direct return on investment. More importantly, however, it would also result in a great deal of learning that could be shared and applied by others to grow the learning and development culture. 

It is still in place today, and copied by many. Some thought to bring it into education too, and have a “golden hour” or “genius hour” each day, or a passion project Friday in which the learners could explore and tinker based on what lights them up. 

Passion-based learning as a core, not a complement

We are all for any passion-based learning wherever it is done well. However, when you ask the question, what if all of our learning was passion-based? you are really asking about the true nature of learning. 

Take it all away- the curriculum, the grades and timetables, exams and outcomes. What is learning when you pare it back to its pure form? It is play, joy, experimentation, directed and controlled only by you, totally nonlinear and the key to a flow state where time passes in the blink of an eye. 

Take that as your foundation- that curiosity and exploratory creativity is a birthright we all share, and what can you build on top of that? What happens when learning is built around what really matters to you? 

At Learnlife we try to free up as much time as possible for learners to work on their passion projects. Whether this is in the woodwork or recording studio, or just in a quiet space with time to get the ideas out and untangled, the learner is actively engaged in something meaningful to them and their own future. 

Passion-based learning is deep learning

We are not Google, and this is where we differ quite a bit: we help to actively build learning around passion projects. If a learner is shaping a new instrument in woodwork, can they not learn more about machinery, angles, acoustics, resonance, sound waves and any number of things as they do so? 

In areas like literacy and numeracy we take things seriously. Learners need to know certain things to get the most out of life, but they do not have to learn them in a lockstep order. As opportunities arise to build these learning experiences into their passion projects, Learning Guides are there alongside. 

The result is meaningful learning. Take for example learning to calculate angles. One learner is presented with a worksheet and an explanation on the whiteboard. They might get told of some abstract use this knowledge has in the “real world” but they are not likely to be fitting kitchens or launching satellites at any point too soon, and they may want to avoid these things altogether anyway. There is a serious disconnect between learning and life in this approach. 

However, another learner who is trying to sculpt the hollow body of an acoustic instrument will learn that different angles produce different sounds, and that they can apply that knowledge to  iterate towards the one they want to hear. They learn about angles because that is the step they need to take in constructing skills and knowledge towards their own self-determined goal. 

On paper, these are the same learning outcomes: learners will be able to Identify, calculate and apply the properties of lines and angles but which learner will most likely internalise that knowledge? Who has experienced it, embodied that learning and knows how to take it with them to solve the next problem? You can see the angle here. 

And we do not want to give the impression of lone-wolf learning, because collaboration comes naturally in passion-based learning. How will learners best collaborate with each other? When we tell them to solve this problem in groups or when the learner themselves has decided they should enlist some help, perhaps even from a peer who has seen what they are doing and asked to get involved. Passion is contagious, you see. 

As Yochai Benkler tells us in the unselfish gene, collaboration is a natural byproduct of organic learning and a critical skill for a more sustainable society. Learning to collaborate, asking for help, co-creating and co-innovating are all things best learned organically, then supported by opportunities to reflect and share. 

Passion based learning is not a 20% complement, but 100% core and key to deep, meaningful learning. 

Read our passion-based learning methodology page to learn more on how passions can ignite lifelong learning.

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