The article introduces Inquiry-based learning (IBL) by providing examples of IBL classrooms, analysing the process of IBL, and explaining how it might benefit children’s learning skills. An IBL classroom is a student-centred classroom and aims to improve students’ self-learning skills. Unlike traditional acquisition style of learning, IBL enables students tolearn and practice not only knowledge and theories from textbooks but also their individual abilities, such as critical thinking, process skill and teamwork. It is based on Piaget’s constructivism theory of cognitive development. Apart from IBL, there are also Problem-based learning (PBL) and Project-based learning (PjBL).

(MA Yanting,TAO Xuanzi)

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Electronic toys and digital games expand the forms of playing for our children nowadays. Evidence shows that it won’t replace the traditional activities and playing materials of early childhood, such as reading and playing sand. Technology enhances the affordances of traditional play and has the same basic functions as other media in serving children’s development through play. At the same time, it displaces more desirable activities and interaction with peers by providing a safer environment and solving distance issues. Benefits of play with technologies depend upon children’s playing environment and parents participation.

(Ma Yanting, Tao Xuanzi)

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Creativity is an essential skill for the 21st century. However, unlike academic skills, such as Chinese, Maths and English, it is not something that can be taught in a large scale and be assessed by standardized tests in schools. This is also why the cultivation of creativity is such a challenge for parents and educators.


So, how can creativity be nurtured? What is the connection between play and creativity? How exactly does playing boost creativity? In what ways could teachers or parents guide children to develop creativity while they are learning?

What is the connection between play and creativity? (Bateson, Bateson, & Martin, 2013)


Playful Learning is a source of creativity, and children who are more playful tend to be more creative. Also, using things creatively can increase playfulness.


How does play help children develop creativity? (Solis et al., 2019)


Play provides children with the opportunity to ask more “what if?”, allowing them to think of more questions and figure out possible solutions. While playing, children make new connections between people, ideas, materials, and the world. They create, take risks, make and change rules. They learn how to work with others in negotiation. They also explore and learn from their mistakes with a playful mindset.


In practice, does play boost children’s creativity?


In Dansky’s and Silverman’s experiment, they found that children, who were allowed to play with different objects before the assessment of creativity, would  performed better than those who were not. Also, children’s play reflects, in part, their divergent thinking (HowardJones, Taylor & Sutton, 2002; Whitebread & Basilio, 2013).


In addition, a study examining the effects of children aged 6-10 having pretend play showed that the level of imagination manifested while children were playing kept increasing in the future 23 years even when children  became adults and spent less time playing (Russ & Dillon, 2011; Bateson et al., 2013). Also, children’s pretend play during preschool is strongly associated with the development of creativity during adolescence (Mullineaux & Dilalla, 2009; Whitebread & Basilio, 2013). In Karwowski’s and Soszynski’s study, research findings showed that undergraduates engaging in role-playing games significantly increased their fluency and originality in creativity process (Karwowski & Soszynski, 2008; Whitebread & Basilio, 2013).

In what ways can play boost creativity?


  1. Allowing children to play in their own ways without prior planning or intervention.


  1. Adults acting as collaborators but not instructors, and developing skills with children.

E.g. Taking role-playing games as an example, adults could co-develop confidence and language skills while performing with children.


  1. Incorporating children’s interests, cultural environment and community practices into play.

E.g. Parents can take their children to the fire station in their community and show them around. Then, when children get home, parents can act out the fire station scenes with their children through role-play, such as extinguishing the fire.


  1. Encouraging children to learn about real-world issues from popular culture, and incorporate popular culture into play.

E.g. Extracting some real-world knowledge about firefighting from the children’s cartoon “Fireman Sam” and the adult TV series “The Great Fire of London,”, and incorporate them into a firefighting role-play.


  1. Allowing children to construct, plan and develop their own playing environment.

E.g. Children can decide where they want to play and how their play area is decorated, etc.

In guided play, how could creativity be cultivated?


So far, you might have a new understanding of the relations between free play and creativity, which is children are able to develop creativity through free play. What about guided play? How can a teacher or parent guide a child to develop creativity while learning?


1.Helping students identify the moment creativity is needed, and when it is not.

What are the moments when creativity is needed?

a) There’s no one right answer.

b) Past experience is not useful.

c) No fixed rules for the task.


2.Providing materials that mimic real life situations to help students understand the similarities between real-world situations and learning tasks.

Specific approach:

a) Guiding students to focus on their mental process while playing, and realize the importance of repetitive practice.

b) Introducing students to different playing strategies and giving examples of how to apply them in different contexts, helping students transfer the strategies from the original task to a new one.


3.Helping students develop a reflective mind and realize the importance of different skills in particular situation or stages of creative process.

Specific approach:

Guiding students to ask themselves ______ when they encounter a creative problem:

a) What kind of situation is this?

b) What strategies can be adopted?

c) Which strategy is the most relevant?

4.Helping students select, apply, and monitor the implement of strategies.

Specific approach:

Guiding students to be aware of their mental process while playing, helping them become aware of their own application of knowledge.

Prompting children’s thoughts through asking:

a) What do you want to do now?

b) Why are you doing this?

c) Are the available resources (time, materials, etc.) sufficient for you to achieve it?

d) Have you reached your goal?

e) Do you think it is better to move on or to change tactics?


5.Encouraging students to try new approaches rather than relying on familiar solutions.

Specific approach:

a) Helping children recognize their emotional state before and after implementing creative strategies, making these emotions children’s advantage when they are performing their tasks.

b) Helping children recognize that when they try to think creatively, they may encounter a lot of confusion, conflict, and ambiguity, which is also why there might not be a quick and accurate response.

c) Guiding students to accept a period of uncertainty or anxiety, helping them to understand the necessity of such trouble for the development of creative approaches.


We know that playing is a natural part of children’s nature, which is the same as creativity; they two are arguably innate in humans. Being able to play or be creative is actually an ability that are increasingly indispensable. However, if lacking the right environment and developmental conditions, these abilities can fade away.


The Torrance data on the decline in creativity in the United States in the 1990s already showed a crisis. There is less and less time and space for both free and guided play, and many parents and teachers are neglecting the impact of “learning to play” and the role of “leaving space for children”. I hope that this article could inspire you to rethink the relationship between play and creativity; play and learning. Together, we can create a more suitable environment for children to grow and become creative lifelong learners!

(Chuying Wu, Siyu Zha)



Antonietti, A. (1997). Unlocking creativity. Educational Leadership, 54, 73-75.

Bateson, P., Bateson, P. P. G., & Martin, P. (2013). Play, playfulness, creativity and innovation: Cambridge University Press.

Whitebread, D., & Basilio, M. (2013). Play, culture and creativity. Cultures of Creativity. Billund, Denmark: The LEGO Foundation.

Wood, E. (2009). Developing a pedagogy of play. Early childhood education: Society and culture, 27-38.

Solis, L., Khumalo, K., Nowack, S., Davidson, E.B., & Mardell, B. (2019). Towards a South African Pedagogy of Play. Pedagogy of Play.

Creativity is the key to mankind’s ability to cope with the future era of artificial intelligence, and will be an important factor in distinguishing humans from robots. With the development of modern society and technology, creativity is becoming more and more popular among parents and educators alike.


People may often think that creativity is just the ability to generate new ideas and create new things. However, is creativity really as simple as we thought? What exactly is creativity? What kind of person can be regarded as creative? What are the lesser known characteristics of creativity? What will children experience during creativity process and activities?

What is “Creativity”?


Within the field of education, although definitions of creativity abound, educators generally agree that creativity is the ability to create ‘something original and effective’ (Hämäläinen & Vähäsantanen, 2011). This means that after the creativity process, the resulting work must not only be original, but also useful. For example, in everyday life, if a work of art wants to be creative, first, it needs to present new artistic elements, then, it is essential to give visitors useful information, such as inspiring them to generate ideas from multiple perspectives (Freedman, 2010).


Who can be regarded as “Creative”?


  1. People who are able to produce new products (Karlins & Schroder, 1967)

Question: In the creativity process, does the output of a new product have to be”entirely new”?

Answer: No! The creation of new works can be an expression of the creative process, but there are also three other ways in which creativity can be manifested.

You can test yourself to see if you are “creative” accordingly:

  • Ability to form associative elements into new combinations (Mednick, 1762)
  • Ability to transform (Jackson & Messick, 1965)
  • Ability to evolve alternate organizations or integrations of diverse perceptions and decisions (Schroder, Driver, Sueufert, 1966)


  1. People who are willing to manipulate the environment

Creativity requires active environmental exploration and self-generated solutions, with an emphasis not on the amount of known information, but on how that information can be used to deal with the unknown (Karlins & Schroder, 1967).

Is creativity just as simple as the above?

The answer is: Of course not!


Creativity has other characteristics as well!


  1. Critical Reflection

The process of creation involves a critical reflection of one’s own creative process, which is just as experts in a particular field would always be critical about their previous works or other boarder social issues (Freedman, 2010). In everyday creation, we would constantly think critically and improv our own work; at the same time, new work in a field is often evaluated, critiqued and improved by other members of the field (Hämäläinen & Vähäsantanen, 2011). Therefore, the process of creation is also a process of critical reflection.


  1. Risk-Taking

The process of creativity is also a process of being bold, innovative, and ready to take risks in one’s thinking (White, 2006). Therefore, Nickerson (1999) argues that timidity and  the lack of confidence does not help the development of creativity (White, 2006). Additionally, risk-taking behaviors in the creativity process helps the child to develop leadership skills because children would present work that people have not seen before, help the audiences understand in unique ways, persuades audiences to think, accepts and takes the advocated new actions (Freedman, 2010).

  1. Sociocultural links

The existence of creativity is inextricably linked to the socio-cultural context in which its application takes place (Freedman, 2010). Just as, Einstein could not have developed the Theory of Relativity if he had not lived in a culture obsessed with space travel; Picasso would have had to understand the art of the time and the violence of wartime if he wanted to paint Guernica (Freedman, 2010). In addition, most of the creation is based on old ideas, subject and images; therefore, the process of creation is also a reinforcement of cultural traditions (Freedman, 2010).


In the process of creativity, what will the children experience?


Creativity: Six-Step Process (Wright, 2010)

  1. Asking questions and solving problems

Take art lesson, as an example, in the process of drawing, children will freely generate different problems and decide how to solve them. When the child finds the problem “how to color a blanket to give it the desired effect,” he can mix and match different colors.


  1. Flexible problem solving

Problems are not solved in a single way, but from multiple perspectives. For example, when a child wants to turn a daytime picture into a nighttime one, he can erase the sun and replace it with the moon, or paint the sky into dark blue.


  1. Thinking and Choosing

Distinguishing which ideas are more worthy of being highlighted and explored. For example, during the drawing process, the child is able to decide which colors, shapes, and lines to use, or where to place the shapes in the picture to better represent his or her ideal picture.

  1. Adding, subtracting, replacing or interchanging existing objects or ideas

For example, when a child sees that a cloud is shaped like a shark, the child can modify the cloud to make it look like a “flying shark”.


  1. Refining, developing and improving existing ideas

For example, when a child wants to improve the drawing of a moving car, he can add a curved path with arrow to indicate the moving direction of the car.


  1. Fluency in expressing thoughts

Expressing a large number of ideas in a short time. For example, if you ask a child “what problems did you encounter while drawing?”, they can tell you about many of the challenges they faced.


There are many misconceptions about creativity that many people may have had for a long time. It is not as simple as “the output of something new” as the general public thinks, or as esoteric as “genius science or inventors”, but really common in our daily lives, learning and play. In the future age of artificial intelligence, creativity will be a key to the work of parents and teachers, but also a challenge for educators.

(Chuying Wu, Siyu Zha)



Freedman, K. (2010). Rethinking creativity: A definition to support contemporary practice. Art Education, 63(2), 8-15.

Hämäläinen, R., & Vähäsantanen, K. (2011). Theoretical and pedagogical perspectives on orchestrating creativity and collaborative learning. Educational Research Review, 6(3), 169-184.

Karlins, M., & Schroder, H. M. (1967). Discovery learning, creativity, and the inductive teaching program. Psychological reports, 20(3), 867-876.

White, J. (2006). Arias of learning: creativity and performativity in Australian teacher education. Cambridge Journal of education, 36(3), 435-453.

Wright, S. (2010). Understanding creativity in early childhood: Meaning-making and children’s drawing: Sage.

As an essential part of children’s daily life, play has long been regarded as an antithesis of learning in early education. In fact, play is very beneficial to learning, but how to “play” is a trick. In this article, we will introduce and compare two types of play: Free Play and Guided Play. Then, we will discuss how play is more conducive to children’s learning and growth.

Free Play


Free Play refers to the growing experiences that are actively controlled, created, discussed, explored, and improvised by children without adult intervention and the pursuit of external goals (O’Brien, 2002).


Many researchers have identified the following five characteristics of free play (Mandryk, 2001):

  1. Voluntary: people can enter and leave at will
  2. Spontaneous: play can be changed by the players
  3. Involves pretend elements: play is different from everyday experience
  4. Engaging: separated from the surrounding activity
  5. Fun and Pleasurable: enjoyed by all of the players


Free play is different from toys, games or play. For example, even though playing football and live-action role-playing are both play activities, football as a form of play does not involve flexibility or pretend elements; therefore, football is not free play in the same way as live-action role-playing (Mandryk,2001).

(Source: unsplash)

The development of free play stems from the constructivist view of Cognitive Development, a notion that children’s perception of the world is constructed as a result of their active interaction and experimentation with their surroundings, emphasizing children’s active engagement in learning, development, and cognition (Sim,2017). Numerous studies have shown that children are actively engaged in exploring their environment, spontaneously asking questions, seeking explanations, and learning from self-generated evidences from an early age (Sim,2017).


Advantages of Free Play


  1. Allowing unrestricted freedom of exploration (Weisberg, 2016)

In free play, children can voluntarily, actively, flexibly, joyfully, and unrestrictedly explore every aspect of play, such as the different functions and ways of playing with toys, in an unprescribed time and environment.


  1. Promoting physical development (Mandryk, 2001)

Free play not only helps children develop motor skills, but also promotes the growth of brain cells and synapses and improves neurotransmission and integration in the brain. The reason why free play is beneficial to the cortical development is because children need to coordinate all parts of their body to perform various activities, such as running, jumping, sitting, and walking.


  1. Promoting cognitive development (Mandryk, 2001)

Free play helps promote a range of cognitive development, including language skills, symbolic thought, creative thinking, the abilities to focus, control behavior, and problem solving skills. In free play, children are able to play without risk, boosting their confidence of being capable learners.


  1. Promoting socio-emotional development (Mandryk, 2001)

Through free play, children can express joyful emotions while dealing with underlying psychological fears and traumatic past experiences. In addition, role-playing is particularly important in developing children’s sense of control over their environment, emotional awareness, and social sensitivity. It also helps to enrich children’s emotional expression and develop emotional stability. For older children, it can help them to enhance their sense of humour as well as spontaneity, and maintain a good sense of self.


Disadvantages of free play


  1. Lowing learning efficiency

Since free play involves no adult intervention, and is all based on children’s spontaneous exploration, it can be inefficient and ineffective for targeted learning objectives (Bonawitz, 2011).


  1. Restricting the level of knowledge being acquired

In fact, adult guidance is crucial for children’s learning of complex knowledge, as the demands of some learning content may exceed children’s ability to comprehend and store relevant information; therefore, in some cases where adult guidance is lacking, children may not be able to achieve learning on their own (Weisberg, 2016). In addition, conceptual cognition is less likely to develop when children are playing freely (Fisher, 2013). For example, children are unlikely to discover the biological classification of animals when they play with animal toys without adult guidance.

(Source: yiling)

Guided Play


Guided Play is a learning experience that integrates children’s autonomy in free play with adult guidance and learning goals (Weisberg, 2016).


Guided play utilizes the instinct that children can learn through play, allowing children to express their autonomy with adult support under a set-up environment (Weisberg, 2016).


Guided play can unfold in two forms. Firstly, ensuring that children explore their autonomy in an environment designed by adults, and with learning objectives highlighted; for example, in a high-quality pre-constructed museum exhibition, children can freely explore and learn (Weisberg, 2016). The second one involves adults observing children’s activities, encouraging, asking questions, making additional comments, and developing interest; for example, asking open-ended questions, engaging in conversational inquiry, or inserting relevant learning concepts when the child’s attention is appropriate (Weisberg, 2016).

(Source: 2019 summer camp)

Guided play was inspired by the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) developed by a renowned psychologist Vygotsky. The Zone of Proximal Development refers to the distance between a child’s actual developmental level when he or she can solve problems independently and his or her potential developmental level when solving problems with adult guidance (Chaiklin, 2003). In short, providing adult guidance in this developmental zone could be most helpful in skills development for children. The key to the success of guided play in facilitating children’s learning is whether children’s self-discovery and adult guidance  could strike a balance (Weisberg, 2016).


Advantages of Guided Play


  1. Promoting children’s academic development (Weisberg, 2013)

Guided play provides a targeted approach to learning for children. Many studies have shown that child-centered playful instruction promotes academic development that leads to improved reading, math, and spatial thinking skills, and these benefits will continue through the first grade.


  1. Enhancing learning outcomes (Weisberg, 2013)

Guided play allows children to explore and ask questions while feeling comfortable and spontaneous enough to do so. It limits children’s choices in the service of learning goals, and takes advantages of children’s natural tendency to respond in ways that successfully assist children in framing their learning. By prioritizing children’s interests and needs in the learning process, asking explorational questions, giving corresponding feedback, and providing learning materials that are meaningful to children, guided play can maintain children’s learning engagement and ensure the outcomes of playful learning.


  1. Promoting classroom efficiency

Guided play increases motivation, reduces problem behaviors, and helps children regulate emotions as well as reducing stress, increasing the efficiency in the classroom (Weisberg, 2013).

(Source: 2020 art camp)

  1. Promoting individual development (Weisberg, 2013)

Guided play helps children develop executive function skills, such as inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. It helps children develop social and problem-solving skills in inquiry-based conversations with adults. It also helps children explore their interests and strengths, enhancing their sense of proud and self-confidence.


Disadvantages of guided play


  1. Limiting the breadth of children’s exploration

When playing with novel toys or facing new problems, adult guidance in guided play may reduce children’s likelihood to explore the aspects that are not relevant to the cues provided by adults; hence, less likely to gain new discoveries (Bonawitz, 2011).


  1. The complexity of practical applications (Weisberg, 2016)

There are still many challenges in practical applications of guided play. For example, how to provide a good balance of child autonomy and adult guidance for different children? How often should guided play be taken place in teaching? What is the optimal number of children being involved in play that could ensure high quality instruction?


Free play v.s. guided play. Which one is better?


While both free play and guided play allow children to learn something new through play, guided play can be more focused and goal-oriented; whereas, free play places more emphasis on the experiences that children naturally gain through play.


So how can we use free play and guided play to provide a better educational experience for children?

Combining children’s self-directed engagement with adult instruction can create powerful pedagogies for children’s learning (Weisberg, 2016). Research by Fisher, Hirsh-Pasek, Newcombe, and Golinkoff found that children are more able to comprehend important features of shapes when they are actively exploring, coupled with appropriate guidance from adults (Fisher, 2013, Weisberg, 2016). This experiment examined the learning effects of preschool children in recognizing the properties of various shapes, such as triangles, under three conditions: free play, didactic-instruction, and guided play.


The results of the experiment showed that:

In terms of learning outcomes:

Guided Play & Didactic Instruction > Free Play

In terms of the ability to transfer knowledge:

Guided Play > Free Play




Both free play and guided play can facilitate children’s learning to some extent. However, play like guided play can help children learn in a targeted way and develop conceptual knowledge.

Guided play, an educational approach that integrates free play and didactic instruction, can also be effective in promoting children’s learning while respecting their autonomy, allowing children to have a good play and learning experience.

(Chuying Wu, Siyu Zha)



Bonawitz, E., Shafto, P., Gweon, H., Goodman, N. D., Spelke, E., & Schulz, L. (2011). The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery. Cognition, 120(3), 322-330.

Chaiklin, S. (2003). The zone of proximal development in Vygotsky’s analysis of learning and instruction. Vygotsky’s educational theory in cultural context, 1, 39-64.

Fisher, K. R., Hirsh‐Pasek, K., Newcombe, N., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2013). Taking shape: Supporting preschoolers’ acquisition of geometric knowledge through guided play. Child development, 84(6), 1872-1878.

Mandryk, R. L., & Inkpen, K. M. (2001). Supporting free play in ubiquitous computer games. Paper presented at the Workshop on designing ubiquitous computing games, UbiComp.

O’Brien, J., & Smith, J. (2002). Childhood transformed? Risk perceptions and the decline of free play. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65(3), 123-128.

Sim, Z. L., & Xu, F. (2017). Learning higher-order generalizations through free play: Evidence from 2-and 3-year-old children. Developmental psychology, 53(4), 642.

Weisberg, D. S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., Kittredge, A. K., & Klahr, D. (2016). Guided play: Principles and practices. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(3), 177-182.

Weisberg, D. S., Hirsh‐Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2013). Guided play: Where curricular goals meet a playful pedagogy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(2), 104-112.


In an era of rapid technological development, STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is greatly valued but the gender inequality still exists. Men far outnumber women both in STEM education and careers. According to a recent UNESCO survey, only 30% of women in higher education worldwide study STEM-related subjects. Is there a gender difference in talent when it comes to STEM? If more girls study STEM, how will such trend impact the community? As parents and educators, how can we support girls in STEM?

1) Common myths about girls learning STEM


Myth #1: “Girls are not as talented as boys when studying science. As soon as the curriculum becomes more difficult, girls cannot stay competitive.”


Many people believe that boys are better at logical reasoning by nature, while girls are more gifted in language and arts. Yet many studies have disproved this assumption. In elementary school, girls and boys do not show significant differences in STEM learning. However, boys began to show an advantage in math and science after adolescence. Researchers believe that one potential reason is that girls grow up with stereotype threats and become more anxious about learning and exploring STEM.

Myth #2: ” Doing STEM research is too much work and unpopular with girls.”


Researchers believe that gender stereotypes prevent girls from associating their feminine identity with “STEM learners.” Girls’ subconscious rejection of STEM may make them less confident to pursue careers in these fields.


2) Why do we need to encourage more girls to pursue STEM?


1.Diversity brings more innovative perspectives


As more girls enter STEM fields, they will bring more variety to the previously male-dominated teams. Nowadays, building innovative products often require team members with different perspectives, backgrounds, and identities.  Encouraging more girls into STEM fields can contribute to the team’s overall innovation.


2.The quantity and quality of our STEM talent pool will improve.


In a competitive global economy, human resources are essential if we want to stay ahead in innovation. Encouraging more girls to study and work in STEM  fields can produce a larger talent pool.

3.The gender pay gap will be reduced


Due to the innovative value of STEM, STEM jobs tend to pay more. Encouraging more girls to pursue STEM-related careers can also indirectly reduce the gender pay gap.


3) How can we support girls in STEM?


1.Make STEM more accessible to encourage girls’ participation


While there is no well-founded evidence about gender difference in STEM, girls tend to be more susceptible to stereotypes and less confident. Therefore, an accessible introductory course can help girls overcome their anxiety and build interest in STEM. Many programming education institutions have partnered with elementary schools to establish programming clubs, online classes and summer camps for girls ( Girls Can Code, Kode with Klossy etc.)

2.Provide more engaging, hands-on STEM lessons


A 2018 Microsoft survey noted that offering more fun and hands-on lessons can help keep girls interested in STEM. During creation, students can apply the theories they learned to solve problems, thus gaining a deeper appreciation for the joy of creation.


3.Create more communities to provide role models


More communities are established to support girls in STEM, connecting women working in tech with young girls. As more girls feel the support of these women, they can relate their identity as women to “STEM professionals” and are therefore able to overcome the gender stereotypes.


In summary, girls are not gifted differently than boys in STEM learning, but they tend to face gender stereotypes,feel more anxious about learning STEM and having difficulty developing an identity to explore STEM-related education and careers. Achieving gender equality in STEM is still a long way. But by offering more basic, fun, and hands-on STEM programs, increasing mentors and role models, and promoting the stories of successful women in STEM, girls will be more confident to explore STEM. Let’s hope that more girls will use the power of technology to fulfill their dreams and bring more innovation and possibilities to this male-dominated field in the future.

(Weijing Liu,Di Zhao)


Best Computer Science Degrees. 5 Reasons why we need more women in STEM fields. Retrieved from
Choney, S. (2018) Why do girls lose interest in STEM? New research has some answers—and what we can do about it? Microsoft.Retrieved from
Edcor. The importance of increasing women in STEM. Retrieved from
Ganley, C. (2018). Are boys better than girls at math? Scientific American. Retrieved from
LoBue, V. (2019) Are boys really better than girls at math and science? Psychology Today. Retrieved from
Mantz, D. (2019) How do we get more girls into STEM? Build confidence (and robots). EdSurge. Retrieved from
Mount Holyoke College. STEM at Mount Holyoke. Retrieved from
Stockwell, C. (2017) Women vs. men in STEM degrees: Do we have a problem? college factual. Retrieved from (2017) Cracking the code: girls and women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Education. (2019) U.S Department of Education advances Trump administration’s STEM investment priorities. Retrieved from
China STEM Eduction Innovative Activities Plan 2029.Retrieved from

How can we keep students motivated in self-directed learning? In this article, we will approach this topic from educational psychology and share a few learning design strategies and practical approaches.

Motivation sustains our effort and explains why people take on challenges. While learning requires extra effort, motivation affects how much energy a learner can allocate to a task.

So how do you find and maintain your motivation to learn?

Strategy1: Set learning goals rather than performance goals

Learning Goal refers to learning to acquire new knowledge or to solve a problem. Performance Goal refers to learning to demonstrate one’s ability or to gain an advantage over others. Studies have shown that meaningful learning is most likely to occur when learners pursue learning goals rather than performance goals.

  • Practical approach #1: Invest in your learning goals

Teachers and instructional designers can set learning goals for students and lead them to greater buy-in to these goals. For instance, having students fill out the KWL form (know, what, learn) allows them to actively connect with what they already know and stimulate their curiosity to learn more.

  • Practical approach #2: Use more problem-solving examples when introducing new knowledge

Sweller found that when students see a new problem, they focus on how to do it correctly. With this in mind, Sweller points out that teachers can introduce new knowledge by providing more examples of the thought processes, rather than asking students to complete exercises. Thus, students will not focus on task completion at the expense of a more in-depth thinking process. They can tend to their learning goals and learn more effectively.

Strategy2: Build a Growth Mindset

Dweck and Leggett’s research discover that students with fixed mindsets set goals based on their past successes and failures and tend to avoid challenges. Students with a growth mindset are confident that they can improve through their efforts and are more motivated.

Practical approach #1: Ensure that students can complete learning tasks through effort

If student put in their effort but fail, they may believe that grades are not based on hard work but luck or talent. Conversely, students become more motivated to learn when they discover that hard work helps them to achieve their goals. Therefore, when designing learning materials, teachers and instructional designers should try to ensure that students can complete the tasks through their effort.

  • Practical approach #2: Convey the message that “you reap what you grow.”

Teachers should inform students that “progress is achieved through hard work”. Teachers should also avoid using expressions like “smart” and “IQ.” These expressions imply that talent is innate, which discourage students from making effort.

Strategy 3: Develop students’ interest in learning

Situational interest refers to attention being drawn to something unusual. Many studies have shown that people are more likely to remember interesting information when learning. Personal interest is an adjunct to our experience. If we pursue our goals over time, we will become more interested in them. Both situational and personal interest can direct attention and motivate students to learn.

  • Practical Approach #1: Design creative learning materials to induce situational interest

Teachers and instructional designers can use creative learning materials to stimulate students’ situational interest and motivation, such as using hands-on activities. However, potential problems may arise. For instance, situational interest may even distract students with irrelevant details. When using contextual design, teachers and instructional designers must plan carefully to ensure that students also receive the relevant content.

  • Practical Approach #2: Use personal interests to learn other skills

In contrast to situational interest, personal interest arises as students continue to learn a subject and varies from person to person. Teachers and instructional designers are unable to influence personal interest directly. However, it is a great channel to practice other skills. For example, teachers can encourage elementary school students to improve their literacy skills by reading books of their choice.

(Liu Weijing,Zhao Di)