Learning Scared


As my kids started back to school last week, our house was filled with the fear, trepidation, and anxiety of a new school year.

In the workplace, we confront these same fears when we are forced to learn something new or are put in an environment that’s outside of our comfort zone. As it so happens, these fears are not unfounded. Sophophobia is real. It’s the fear of knowledge or learning.

The question that puzzles me is why do we fear learning?

The possible answers to this question are complex, fascinating, and demonstrate a major impact in our adult working lives.

Most experts agree that most adult learning fears in the workplace stem from the following perceptions:

Feeling Dumb — I might expose myself to co-workers and management about how little I know.

More Work — If I learn more, they’ll just give me more work to do and more responsibility

Failure — If I try to learn, I might fail, which is worse than not trying at all.

Change — If I learn, I will change along with everything else around me. I just want things to stay the same.

Danger — If I learn, I could be creating a dangerous situation for myself and others.

The key here is that most fears about learning are imagined, yet very real for those who feel them. The emotion center in the brain doesn’t distinguish between what it remembers and what it imagines. When we don’t feel safe, physically or emotionally, we struggle to learn and anxiety grows.

One of our primal instincts is to avoid what we fear. This is our flight response in action.

So, as parents, educators, and lifelong learners, we must take into account the fear of learning. Whether we develop training programs, teach others, or participate in learning, we must first be conscious of these learning fears. By acknowledging these potential learning concerns, we can begin to create a safe and comfortable learning environment for all participants.

Overcoming fear is just like learning itself — it’s a discovery where the unknown becomes the known.