Have you ever asked yourself: Why do I have to take this class if it has nothing to do with my major? When will I use this information in the real world? Why do my professors care so much about formatting and writing? I am never going to be tested on this at my job.

Perhaps you are studying Computer Information Systems and wondering why you have to take an accounting course. Or maybe you are majoring in Criminal Justice and asking yourself why you have to know about microcomputer applications.

While many of us go to college seeking knowledge in a specified area of study, our degrees require us to take classes that expose us to a variety of ideas in an attempt to make us well-rounded students and individuals, and to provide us the opportunity to discover an idea or interest of which we previously were unaware. Research suggests that not only does seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge benefit us as individuals – and contributes to society as a whole – but it also helps us develop fundamental cognitive skills starting at a very young age.

In an article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in June 2014, researchers from the University of Denver and University of Colorado Boulder examined the development of executive functions, which “regulate thought and action in support of goal-directed behavior,” such as decision-making, planning and self-control.

The researchers found that 6 and 7 year olds who spent more time in less-structured activities, such as free play, had higher levels of self-directed executive functioning.

The importance of unstructured play doesn’t fade with age; in fact, some would suggest that focusing on play is essential for critical thinking and problem solving. The Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech recently hosted an Impact Summit featuring guest speaker Sarah Lewis, an author and cultural historian. In her talk – as well as in her book, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery – Lewis highlighted the importance of embracing the “near win.”

For Lewis, that’s the idea that for every time we fail, we are pushed to keep going, to try again, to try to get it perfect the next time. In pursuing that moment of success, we often discover a lot about ourselves and the area of study we are pursuing.

Lewis used the example of Albert Einstein and famous artists who, through failure, discovered something about science that was not known before or created a piece of art that would be viewed and admired for centuries. Although the public may celebrate that one moment of success – that one discovery, that one piece of art – it is the process of striving for that moment, the near win, that often goes overlooked.

For every piece of the knowledge we seek, or every article we read for an assignment, we gain a greater perspective of the whole. For every piece of information we acquire, we learn how much more we do not know. We know that play encourages us to be curious, to seek answers to what we don’t know, to find purpose and gratification in activities that may at first glance seem to lack importance.

So, whether it is conducting research on a topic that seems like a tiresome task, or tinkering with an object to see how it functions, sometimes learning for the sake of learning is the point.  For every assignment you miss the mark on, or for every attempt at creativity that does not live up to your standards, the drive to do it again, to do it better next time, is what leads us to the moment of success – finally getting an A on that paper or producing that piece of art that showcases the time you spent building those skills.

There is value in creating a space to allow ourselves to play; to be curious and do something that doesn’t have an immediate payoff. Whether that is in school or in our personal lives, exercising cognitive muscles and skills is all the justification you need. So go out and do it.

Jarin Eisenberg is program coordinator for online degree programs at the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business at Florida Institute of Technology, where she also is a Sociology instructor. To learn more about Eisenberg and her work at Florida Tech, read our interview here.

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