A RESURGENT Man Utd: Having ‘fun’ leads to more productive performance, right?


“It’s the reaction of the players, everybody is enjoying themselves and that’s what we need. The team need to enjoy their football, work for each other and that’s it. That’s the result on the pitch.”

Paul Pogba

Match of the Day host Gary Lineker agreed, saying: “They look happy, they look like they’re enjoying their football. It’s the antithesis of what they were at the start of the season.”


The recent improved form of the world famous Manchester United Football Club is a direct result of players being able to play with a ‘sense of fun’, and freedom, being unshackled from their previous manager Jose Mourinho. The results speak for themselves, and pundits and media alike have particularly focused on the resurgence of World Cup winner Paul Pogba, whose flair and irrefutable talent has been notably absent in almost all matches played under Mourinho. For many, the improvements are a corollary that can be transferred to education: let kids have fun, and watch them fly!

The rally towards discovery learning and rally against traditional forms of teaching has been and continues to be vociferous, and highly emotive, as the video opposite by Trevor Muir highlights. The imperative is understandable: liberate children from the outdated methods of education that most adults resented in their own education. But the carrying out of this ideal is inherently flawed. Without providing a base of knowledge on a topic, students won’t learn very effectively. Just letting students loose on a project that requires them to discover the facts for themselves and assimilate it into a cohesive scheme of learning is not like letting Manchester United play with more freedom, because the major and irreconcilable difference is that the Manchester United footballers are experts in their field, whereas students introduced to new topics are novices.

Novice vs Expert

In the post, When Do Novices Become Experts, David Didau cites John Sweller’s explanation of the issue with discovery learning: when students don’t have the requisite background knowledge to negotiate new contexts, there is a subsequent and incapacitating strain on the working memory.

As John Sweller puts it, “Novices, not possessing appropriate schemas, are not able to recognize and memorize problem configurations and are forced to use general problem-solving strategies such as means-ends analysis when faced with a problem.” 

Didau continues to explain that ‘means-end analysis is likely to lead to cognitive overload because it involves trying to work through and hold in mind multiple possible solutions. A bit like trying to juggle 5 objects at once without any practice.’

Concurrently however, is the importance of the ‘expertise reversal effect‘, where it is actually damaging to treat/present the expert learner with instructions designed for the novice. Of course the skill required here is to get the balance right. The instructions below by Sweller give us some guidance to this:

Is it possible that Mourinho may have been treating the experts in his team as novices? Over-guiding them, and thus destroying their rightfully earned sense of autonomy? I don’t know; it certainly could be true. But what I do know is that most of our students are novices in the fields we are teaching them in, and by not considering the science of cognition, albeit a field that itself is developing continuously, we would be limiting their capacity to learn as efficiently as is possible, and ironically retarding their progress towards expertise, and creativity, the holy grail of discovery learning.

When CAN discovery learning happen?

Once the learner becomes expert.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more writing like this on education and English teaching.


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