ALS Topic 6 - Why do people stop learning? (... Do they?)

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 29 April 2018 ( )

Note: The questions below are not supposed to suggest biased answers. You really can adopt any point of view your can suggest evidence for. Do be prepared for others suggesting counter-evidence! Note: clearly not all of these questions can be properly covered in a meetup, but they give us a conscious choice about what to talk about while making the background context clearer. It is up to the people who come on the day to choose what aspects they would like to deal with.

Focus Questions:

1. 9, 19 or 109 years old - When & Why do people stop wanting to learn new stuff?

2. What do you think is worth learning? something for a diploma, something for a career edge, something out of sheer curiosity ...?

3. There are 24 hours in a day. How much do you put aside for socializing, how much for being a spectator, how much for finding out about new stuff?

4. What are some things you have decided not to try to learn more about in this life? Why?

5. What are the most effective ways you know for learning complex skills or knowledge?

6. Do you think learning another language is similar or different from learning other things? Why/why not?

7. Average literacy and numeracy ability worldwide actually declines after 14 years of age - i.e. for most, not all people. (Working for a mass circulation tabloid newspaper in 1966 - 1 million copies daily in Sydney - I was told that the reading age our customers was around 11 y.o.). Why do you think this is so? What are the social consequences of this decline?

8. From your formal education, how much of the information from the courses have you retained in memory? How fast did you forget stuff? Why did you forget it? Is there any fix for this kind of loss?

9. Large numbers of adults (and a proportion of teenagers) are completely incurious about anything unfamiliar. Why do you think this is so? Must it be this way, or is there some kind of cure?

10. 'Confirmation bias' is the tendency we all have to only notice or take in those ideas which confirm what we already believe. This effects even professional researchers. It is endemic in social media. What do you think is the best way to minimize confirmation bias?

11. Mass education has emerged as a vast industry in the last 150 years. It has greatly changed most cultures, but for many students the process is very, very inefficient. Can you suggest of a better way to go about teaching and learning?


Here are 9 extra education related questions thought up by Jenny and David in the last meetup:

1. Why do people ever think they know enough?

2. What keeps people in their knowledge comfort zone?

3. How do people (try to) keep their circumstances within their knowledge zone?

4. Do people ever stop learning?

5.Does the education system encourage individual thinking?

6. How does the media influence opinion?

7. Does political correctness stifle thinking?

8. What can be done to encourage thinking in children?

9. Does the government want citizens to think for themselves? If not, why not?

Comment by Thor:

For my own use, I have a fairly succinct idea of the most hopeful purpose of education, and how to realize it (extracted from my 2014 article on the purpose of education, in comments above):

a) The skill and habit of ingenious questioning. The answers we get in life depend upon the questions we ask.
b) The technical and social skills needed to search out the answers, or tentative answers, to smart questions.
c) The developed ability to synthesize the answers from cascading questions into fresh insights.
d) The understanding that a system without error has no intelligence, and that efficient learning as well as innovation requires errors.
e) The skill to coolly evaluate risk with known unknowns, and the knack of finding good rules of thumb to deal with unknown unknowns.
f) The initiative and persistence to actualize fresh insights for practical effects on the world we live in.

Extra reading

May, Thor (2014) "The Purpose of Education - a hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy?". Thor's Unwise Ideas online @ 

May, Thor "Corruption and Other Distortions as Variables in Language Education". TESOL Law Journal, Vol.2 March 2008; also online @

Amen, Daniel (2017) "When you stop learning your brain starts to die". LinkedIn @

Brodwin, Erin & Skye Gould (2017) "The age your brain peaks at everything". Business Insider @

Costandi, Mo (2014) "Am I too old to learn a new language?" The Guardian @

Drogen, Leigh (2012) "Is the world too complicated for people?" Leigh Drogen website @

Giang, Vivian (2015) "What it takes to change your brain's patterns after age 25". Fast Company blog @

Harris, John (2016) "The lesson of Trump and Brexit - A society too complex for its people risks everything". The Guardian @

Koziol, Michael (29 April 2018) "Malcolm Turnbull backs Gonski 2.0 'blueprint' for radical overhaul of Australian curriculum". Brisbane Times @ 

Lieberman, Matthew (2012) "Why we stop learning: the paradox of expertise - How to keep learning when other people think you know it all". Pschology Today @

Moore, Anthony (2017) "The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing". The Mission blog @

Paul, Annie (2011) "Ten ways you get smarter as you get older". Oprah blog @

Ritchie, Natalie (2018) "What ages do kids learn best?" Child blog @

Simmons, Michael (5 April 2018) "People Who Have “Too Many Interests” Are More Likely To Be Successful According To Research", @  or blog @  [highly recommended]

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


Why do people stop learning? Do they?  (c) Thor May 2018 return to Ddiscussion