Humanism: Overview & Practical Teaching Examples

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How can you get students to live up to their potential? In this lesson, we'll explore humanism and some practical applications of it for the classroom, including how self-directed learning and self-evaluation can lead to lifelong learners.


Colin wants to be a baseball player when he grows up. He thinks school is boring and gets frustrated when teachers try to make him learn things that just don't seem relevant to his life. After all, who needs to know averages and percentages when he's hitting home runs?

To Colin, and many like him, school seems unrelated to his life and goals, and so he is not able to learn and grow. Humanism, a branch of psychology related to the theories of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, has at its core the idea that people want to grow and fulfill their ultimate potential. When students, like Colin, don't fulfill their potential, it's because something is holding them back. What does this mean for teachers? Let's take a look at how some of the core principles of humanism can be utilized in the classroom.

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  • 0:01 Humanism
  • 0:50 Self-Directed Learning
  • 1:59 Self-Evaluation
  • 3:18 Lifelong Learning
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
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Self-Directed Learning

Colin is smart but an undedicated student. He just doesn't see the point; his plan is to become a professional baseball player and make millions of dollars. But math? Reading? He just can't seem to make himself feel passionate about subjects that seem so unrelated to his life and goals.

One key component of humanism is the idea of self-directed learning, which involves students learning what they want and need to learn, not what the teacher arbitrarily decides is important. In this way, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator than a disciplinarian. Instead of insisting that Colin, and students like him, learn a prescriptive lesson plan, teachers support the students in following their passion.

The idea behind self-directed learning is that passion for a subject will motivate students to learn. For example, Colin isn't interested in reading and math, but if a teacher was able to show him books about sports figures and help him study statistics related to baseball, he would be much more likely to be excited about learning. And that excitement would translate into a real, deep understanding of key concepts.


If self-directed learning is important because it ignites students' passion for learning, grades do just the opposite, according to humanism. Instead of making students want to learn, humanists believe, grades turn students off.

True, a student like Colin might work to get a good grade so that he can pass and be eligible to play baseball. But the grades are extrinsic motivators, or things outside of a person that motivate them to do something. Studies have shown that extrinsic motivation is not good in the long-term for learning and achievement.

So, what should Colin's teachers do instead of grades? According to humanism, grades should be replaced with self-evaluation, or thoughtful assessment of one's own work. Self-evaluation teaches students to think about what they have done and what they can still do.

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