We are natural explorers

We believe that there is an innate desire to learn in each of us, whether or not we explicitly articulate it as “learning.” Some of us want to know how a car works, or why we have high and low tide, or how our favorite social media sites know exactly which ads to show us. No matter what our interests may be, we all have something we want to know more about.

But every once in a while, we’d rather give ourselves a break from running toward learning something new. When that happens in a self-directed learning community, what keeps a student from losing focus and drifting away from education?

First, a word of warning. There is a natural ebb and flow in human motivation to take on any endeavor, and education is no exception. There will be high-energy times of growth; there will also be plateaus and even failures.

The desire to belong motivates us

One of the strongest motivators in a self-directed learning community is the community itself. If the school becomes a group to which young people want to belong, they will work to abide within its framework. Setting clear expectations that learning and self-growth are requirements of the school will motivate students to meet those requirements, even when it’s difficult.

Another important benefit of a learning community is the support the members give to each other. Ideally, as students get older and gain experience with the model, they mentor younger or less experienced students with their struggles. The Acton model suggests a badge system to encourage this mentorship and make the transition more explicit. What matters most is to foster a culture of education in the learning community that will keep the school as a whole on track and help any discouraged students to rediscover their motivation.


“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

– W. B. Yeats