Tourist Learners or Learning Travelers

What’s the difference between tourists and travelers? A friend recently noted how their guidebooks would differ.  I’m more interested in how they approach planning for the trip and what they do during the journey.  In my view,


  • Take snapshots of the major sites,
  • They don’t venture off the beaten path
  • Let a guide lead them around
  • Stay in their comfort zone: chain hotels, familiar foods
  • Speak English; avoid learning phrases in the local language


  • Immerse themselves in local culture
  • Avoid standing out, “when in Rome…”
  • Interact with locals
  • Seek hidden treasure off the beaten path
  • Try new foods and experiences, expand their comfort zone

How do these differences connect to the ways students approach learning?

How would you describe your students? Are they tourists or travelers?

Some students may want to be tourists.  Hit the sights, check off items on a list, and move on to the next course.  They’re selling the learning journey short, and it’s out job to help them see that there’s more to learning than ticking off items on the itinerary (syllabus).

Other students want to travel, but find themselves in expensive, restrictive tours. The syllabus (trip itinerary) prescribes every detail of their journey. They infrequently, or perhaps never, have a chance to offer input. One size fits all. There’s limited, if any, flexibility;  scant opportunities to share ownership or responsibility, and few chances to customize their learning journey to make it more meaningful and personally relevant.

Typically, all the decisions about their learning journey have been made for them:

  • What they’re going to learn.
  • How they’ll learn it.
  • Pace and timing.
  • What to pack (books and materials) and how to pack it (page lengths, font sizes, submission requirements, often specified in excruciating detail).

I believe teachers have the best intentions. We believe we’ve planned an excellent trip. After all, our disciplines are fascinating places to discover. Of course students may have other ideas. They might know little or nothing about the destination, or worse, maybe they’ve heard bad things. Perhaps it’s a place they’ve visited before; they may start the journey convinced there’s not much value to be gained from the trip.

Tourist learners see the sights;

Learning travelers are transformed.

The statistics on student boredom suggest that too often, teachers control the learning journey from start to finish. We treat students and learning like a sightseeing trip. Then we’re disappointed when students are disengaged and resort to snapshot learning, checking items off a list. We don’t have to settle for tourist students and canned travel packages.

Even when a vacation is booked through a tour company, travelers have the opportunity to arrange side excursions or make other choices to personalize the experience. Zesty courses and instruction leverage the power of curiosity and interest to advance learning. Doing so requires we spend more time planning the learning journey with our students, not exclusively for them.



About Lolita Paff

Educator. Wife. Mother. Amateur chef. Wine lover.

Posted on August 17, 2017, in Learning, Students, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I love this! Thanks for sharing. I will be sharing with my students as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: