There exists an unspoken assumption – that the acquisition of knowledge, regardless of personal interest, is inherently valuable. 

Yet, as personal anecdotes and research from psychologists like Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang suggest, the consequences of learning things that fail to resonate can be profound, impacting not only our understanding but our entire approach to learning itself.

Think about the learner who walks into class, ready to engage, only to find the material disengaging and irrelevant. How many times have we heard frustrated voices expressing the desire for education that aligns with their interests instead of following a rigid, uninspiring curriculum? Or the grudging tone with which many of our teens even talk about school and studying in general?!

When textbooks and classes become more of a chore than a source of inspiration, isn’t it a disheartening realisation that the education system might be missing the mark?

The missed potential in such situations is palpable. Learning apathy, in these cases, becomes more than a classroom issue; it’s a societal loss, a missed chance for a generation of learners to actively shape their futures.

As the pace of change in a world awash with information accelerates, passive receptacles of facts find themselves ill-equipped to navigate the complexities of the modern world. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge means very little, as we’ve been saying. But here’s exactly why that is.

Reflecting on personal experiences, such as struggling with chemistry but thriving in Spanish, peels back a universal truth for both Dr. Immordino-Yang and all of us, as we can imagine – the emotional connection to what we learn is intricately linked to our capacity for deep understanding. The dreary classrooms of uninspiring subjects don’t just induce boredom; they can actually trigger a neurological barrier that impedes genuine engagement.

Delving into the neurobiology of learning, Dr. Immordino-Yang emphasises that it is “neurologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about,” underlining the essential connection between emotions and learning. When curiosity and interest fuel our exploration, the journey itself becomes a source of joy and satisfaction, releasing dopamine as a natural reward for intrinsic motivation.

In contrast, learning under duress or compulsion alters our mindset. The threat of punishment or failure activates the fight or flight mode, hindering the receptivity needed for profound understanding. In these situations, the goal becomes escape rather than genuine comprehension, resulting in superficial learning with little personal meaning–something plaguing so many learners, and not necessarily through any fault of their own.

It’s an indictment not of our learners, but the education system that surrounds them.

In today’s world, the equation of learning with school has led to the tragic misconception that hard work and tests equate to meaningful education. Or the (mis)placed value on certain subjects and areas of learning at the expense of others, even. As we’ve also observed time and time again, this often overlooks the genuine, curiosity-driven exploration that children engage in through play and creativity, for example; play itself being an underestimated tool in learning, as ‘serious’ an endeavour as we’ve made it. It should go without saying that this dichotomy between imposed seriousness and the natural joy of exploration, the arts, and creative subjects needs reevaluation. 

But on the other side of that coin, there is a growing collective reconsideration of the meaning of education, especially post-schooling, where a paradigm shift is growing more and more necessary. 

It asks the rest of us to consider what we’ve long been saying about learning: instead of imposing preconceived notions of what is meaningful, observe and respect our children’s unique areas of interest. Dr. Immordino-Yang echoes the assertion that we’re all designed to be different, and with that knowledge, the inevitable fact that different things will engage different learners. 

Personalised learning pathways, like the ones that form the basis of Imagine If’s methodologies, recognise that engagement is deeply personal. Tailoring content to align with individual passions ensures that every learner embarks on a journey uniquely their own.

At Imagine If, we don’t have to defy this apathy; our learners do it themselves through the power of their own vigour to learn because they are immersed in curricula as dynamic as they are. Besides, intrinsic motivation rather than fleeting external rewards has proven time and time again to be far more impactful. This is exactly where our approach to crafting personalised curricula is rooted.

Here we have recognised, and practised accordingly, the myriad ways to tackle apathy: 

Project-based, immersive learning adventures which catapult education beyond textbooks, to prepare learners for real-world challenges. This hands-on approach not only makes learning relevant but instils a sense of purpose and excitement. Inclusive and technology-integrated learning spaces foster collaboration and creativity, emphasising the role of each learner as one of active contributors. Imagine If’s emphasis on continuous feedback, learner-driven goal setting within self-directed and child-led education, and the cultivation of critical thinking completes the picture, creating an ecosystem where learners actively shape their educational narratives. It’s a dynamic, participatory journey where engagement isn’t a goal but a way of learning, shaping, and thriving. 

There is a profound joy in watching a child navigate life powered by what genuinely matters to them – a testament to the innate design that encourages a life of meaning and resonance. Every individual’s journey through life is inherently unique, so it’s a simple fact that education should reflect this diversity. Embracing–and taking part in–the potential of our learners’ passions rather than imposing preconceived notions fosters a more enjoyable and interesting life, even outside of school. Understanding that fostering engagement isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavour enables the next logical step toward a future where learners actively contribute to the narrative of their education through an inclusive approach; because the time has been taken to figure out what makes them tick, find their fire, and give them the freedom to find themselves. 

We recognize the urgency of turning this tide. But steering clear of apathy isn’t just about ensuring academic success for us; it’s because we owe a profound dedication to equipping learners with the tools to be active participants in their own lives. It’s not just about superficially avoiding the consequences of apathy; we’re in service of creating a generation of thinkers, doers, and contributors who will shape a world that hungers for passionate, well-informed minds because those very minds are themselves hungry.

Witnessing children’s natural curiosity in action is a fascinating journey. Their unique areas of interest become gateways to expansive knowledge acquisition. Their explorations remain open-ended, driven by intrinsic curiosity and the joy of learning for its own sake. And so it’s our job to find these unique areas of interest and nurture them. Find what calls to them, instead of forcing them to care–and engage in a battle of wills that breeds bitterness and resentment toward learning as a whole.

Apathy isn’t just a disservice to individual learners; it’s a dissonance that resonates across communities and society. We are in a world grappling with multifaceted challenges. As such, passive learners risk becoming casualties of the knowledge era. The modern landscape demands more than just the passive absorption of facts. 

Apathetic learners won’t just be missing out on academic opportunities; they’re robbed of the chance to become active, informed citizens shaping the future. Where curiosity is dulled, the spark of inquiry is extinguished. With it, the ability to ask questions, think critically, examine flaws, bring fresh outlooks. 

Learning can be what we make it. It can be the engaging, exciting journey that it is, with the right amount of understanding and time put into making it a worthwhile endeavour for each respective learner; just as our commitment to inclusive education pushes back against the stagnation that apathy breeds, because we cultivate learners who aren’t just academically proficient (not that this is anything but a byproduct of a passion to learn) but passionately curious about the world they inhabit. 

For a system that serves our learners and their wide-eyed wonder at their environment, instead of contorting those learners to serve it. This natural curiosity snuffed out of most learners and students too soon is a strength ripe for the world today; we need to be willing to recognise it, and above all protect and nurture it deeply. The learning journey rightfully belongs to them, after all.



Why it’s hard to learn about things we don’t care about. (2023c, November 7). A Place On A Hill.