You know that awkward feeling when you’re staring at the clock, daydreaming of three other things you would rather be doing? Checking your phone four times a minute? Yes, boredom is an attention killer, and it can even impair your performance as a student. But the problem goes beyond test scores.
“Boredom, it turns out, is toxic,” writes Amanda Ripley in the New Republic. “It is related to depression, poor grades, substance abuse, hopelessness, and loneliness. In one survey of 467 recent high school dropouts, nearly half said boredom was a major factor in their decision to quit school.”
Across the country, educators are striving to make their courses more engaging. But teachers are not entertainers. Ultimately, how much joy you find is largely up to you.
One study that Ripley quotes gives teachers list of strategies to mitigate their students’ boredom (scroll down to page 104). But why wait for your instructor to adopt a new method? Why not adopt a few for yourself as a student?
Below, we’ve taken four of the report’s boredom killers for teachers and translated them into proactive tactics you can try for yourself.
#1. Teachers: Encourage autonomy.
Students: Take charge and devise an alternative.
Instead of blindly following instructions to the letter, think of alternative ways you could complete the assignment. For example, if your instructor has you typing answers to a list of questions, offer to ask an expert the same list of questions, and then film the interview. In other words, when you find a task too limiting, look for ways to make it bigger. A larger job may take more effort, but at least you’ll feel challenged. And there’s no better way to kill boredom than to take on a challenge.
#2. Classes should provide novelty, surprise, and suspense.
Students: Change up your old routine, and make it new.
When I read a long, difficult book, I sometimes read the chapters out of order, and then try to figure out how they fit together. You can try something similar with your assignment. If you can, break up your course schedule by inserting an elective between two required courses. Break up your study routine. If you always do your homework on the couch, try taking your laptop or tablet to a restaurant or a park.
#3. Instructors: Encourage collaborative learning.
Students: Share your work.
Find a study buddy. Even better, look for mentors who’ve mastered the skills you want to learn. If you work for a large company, track down professionals who are passionate about the subject you’re studying. Their enthusiasm could rub off on you. The best partners for learning are people whose experience differs from yours. Maybe you’ll find that you contribute to them as much as they give to you.
#4. Teachers: Consider your students’ existing knowledge.
Students: Use what you’ve already learned.
This one can be difficult when teachers don’t realize how much you already know. But as a student, you can take ownership of your learning by tapping into your personal experience. When writing an essay or a report, use examples from your own life that illustrate your point. Not only will this make your work more relevant to your life, you’ll improve the quality of your writing, too.
The secret to defeating boredom is to engage. Throw your whole self into any task, and you can make it rewarding and fun. Of course, even the most interesting courses involve some busywork and tasks you don’t want to do. But as long as you’re exploring and making new discoveries, the time you spend in school is worthwhile.