The Pleasure of Learning

Following on from our recent blog, it seems 3Di are not the only people to have been  impressed by Plan B’s recent TEDx/Observer talk.

Plan B

Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote in the Observer yesterday about how inspiring he found the talk, and how we all need to consider the importance of pleasure in children’s learning.

It seems such an obvious statement to make: – Children should enjoy learning.

If they enjoy learning, they are going to be motivated, excited and challenged. They are going to want to learn more, to want to learn independently, and to want to share their learning with others.

We certainly do need to ensure that pleasure is an integral part of learning, especially if we want our learners to continue wanting to learn more, throughout their lives.

Have you stopped learning? We certainly don’t feel as though we have. In fact many of us could possibly argue that our personal learning – our choice in learning, flourished further once we were away from the set curriculum of educational institutions.

Ideally, we learn both in school and out of school. That’s how it should be.

A child or young person should be motivated by their learning experience in school to seek further information and learning during their leisure time; through reading, watching television, travelling around the internet.

Perhaps we ought to remind children and young people what learning is, so that if they are fortunate enough to be taken to the seaside or a museum or a walk along the canal, they can see these activities as learning experiences as well as enjoyable days out.

How much do we actually learn in school? Our language, our motor skills, our social development all happens before we enter into school. Learning to read may happen in school but once a child has the basic understanding of how our language works, it is the home, the local community, the shops and the signs all around them that further their reading ability. It is out of school that they start making their choices about their reading material, and hopefully they start reading for pleasure.

Learning should be pleasurable and reading should be for pleasure too.

This is why 3Di are disheartened by the some of the strategies that are used to increase a child’s vocabulary, rather than concentrating on their understanding and enjoyment of reading.

It seems that Frank Cottrell Boyce agrees with us.

On visiting one school, he was distressed to hear the teacher ask the class to, “to pick out Frank’s wow words and his connectives.”

A web of connectives?


WOW words?

Wow words


I have known some schools give their six year olds a set of unrelated polysyllabic words at the beginning of a week which they are then supposed to use in speech and writing throughout the week.

In essence there is nothing wrong with this – if the children understand the meaning and purpose of the words, or perhaps if the children had come up with a list of challenging words for themselves and their peers. It is the contrived nature that is so disheartening, or rather the purpose for doing this.

If it was to engage the children in their learning, then that would be fine. However, it is far more about testing, and competition, and the survival of the fittest.

“Moreover” or “furthermore”, Frank Cottrell Boyce continues with this very comment:

“Yet, thanks to the cult of testing, we are constantly chivvying our children to hand stuff in, to “feed back”. We encourage them to be focused and driven . . . . The cult of testing has its roots in that great modern superstition: competition. Competition might sharpen the knife, but it will never invent the knife.”

This is so true.

We worry more about the feed back and the evidence than we do about the actual learning taking place.

And we must remember that children all learn in different ways.

I often tell the anecdote of my own eleven year old child and his learning experience. He had been asked to do a project about Nelson Mandela. Having spent the day “working” in his room, he came down and gave me the briefest piece of writing that barely covered a third of an A4 piece of paper.

Dismayed, I said we would have to work together the following day, and feeling frustrated asked him what on earth he had been doing all day.

At breakfast the next morning, he entered into a discussion about the political and working relationship between Mandela and Tambo.

How did he know about all of this when he had seemingly done no ‘work’ the previous day, I wondered? His response was that he had “read” the book I had given him – “The Long Walk to Freedom”.

The child had done his learning, and he had demonstrated it through his fascinating and fascinated discussion on the ANC, the prejudice, the struggle and the injustice that he felt whilst dipping into reading the book. He could talk about it, and he could continue his learning through his discussion with me.

The problem was that there was a teacher waiting for the evidence, and that could not be captured in the conversation that totally convinced me he had done as much learning as he needed. In fact, without the pressure of “feeding back” he was ready for further study because he was enjoying his learning.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Frank Cottrell Boyce makes an exceptionally valuable comment on the value of pleasure as part of learning.

“I think pleasure is a form of attention. If you can take pleasure in something – an idea, an activity – then your brain will happily entertain it for years without aim or objective. It’s therefore a particularly open form of thinking that allows you to surprise yourself and the rest of humanity.”

How about the idea that a child’s thinking can surprise themselves and the rest of humanity – all because of pleasure?

Isn’t this something to truly be aspirational about?

That really would inspire a “wow”.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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2 Responses to The Pleasure of Learning

  1. brennagee says:

    I love the last quote about pleasure as a form of learning/attention. My kids spent an afternoon re-routing rain water and searching for aquatic creatures. Their brains were lit up. I know they learned as much in that afternoon as they learned all term in science. Reading can be a thrill or dullsville. If the kids get to choose what they are drawn to it’s hard to get them to put a book down.


    • 3D Eye says:

      Thank you for you comment. We love the story about your children learning in the rain. This is absolutely what we are describing in the pleasure of learning – and it isn’t just the pleasure of the children. You can feel the pleasure that you received too in your writing.
      We hope you enjoy our other blogs too.


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