Learn, damn it! Student Resistance to Learning



April 13, 2016

“The ground zero of resistance to learning is the fear of change.” Brookfield (2015) .

Whenever we learn, something changes.  Learning creates a forward momentum and as positive as that can be, for many, it can be a scary proposition.  Sometimes, too, we forget that just because we’re teaching something that is of interest to us doesn’t mean those who are in the classroom have a similar level of excitement.

For example, one of the workshops I teach is on complying with bylaws.  Most people in this class are a) there because they have to be and b) not people who typically interact with legalese on purpose.  My enthusiasm for such a…um….dry topic mystifies some and intrigues others.  “How can she be that enthusiastic about legislation and bylaws?  That’s just weird.”

As instructors, we need to think back to a time when we had to take a course or a workshop on a topic that, for us, was downright painful.  Perhaps it was something that was not in alignment with your skillset (for me, that’s math…brrr…). This may give you a bit more compassion for those who are sitting in front of you, clearly disliking where they are.  You can’t force people to learn and there are those who will fight in spite of our best efforts.  Here are a few ideas, though, for engaging students in learning activities, written by Nicolas Pino James – Golden Rules for Engaging Students.

Sometimes, though, it’s not the content students are reacting to.  If students are taught by someone who they do not respect, who does appear knowledgeable about their subject or who gives conflicting/inconsistent information about expectations, that can impact their motivation to learn.  They could also be experiencing a paralyzing level of fear because the tradition learning environment has not been easy for them.  Here’s a link to a fascinating article by Scott Bedsoe and Janice Baskin on fear in the classroom – Strategies for addressing student fear in the classroom).

As an instructor, don’t make the resistance all about you – sometimes it’s about what’s going on inside the student.  Once you rule out the source of the resistance as you, this article gives you some ways to help resistant learners to move forward…even if the topic is Bylaws and You.



Bledsoe, S., PhD, & Baskin, J. (2015, April 27). Strategies for Addressing Student Fear in the Classroom. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/strategies-for-addressing-student-fear-in-the-classroom/

Brookfield, S.D. (2015) The Skillful Teacher.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Pino James, N., PhD. (2015, December 11). Golden Rules for Engaging Students in Learning Activities. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/golden-rules-for-engaging-students-nicolas-pino-james


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