Learning How To Learn
From the minute we open our eyes to the minute we go to bed - we learn. Sometimes we learn from new experiences throughout the day; other times we re-learn stuff we’re already familiar with.
So basically, we learn all the time - this goes without saying. However, we rarely think consciously about the way we learn or the way we do things in life.
In other words, we tend to consider the things we learn about, but we rarely pay attention to the actual learning process. This applies both to active learning - like learning from books, schools, and our workplace, but it also applies to more “passive” learning, like how to communicate well with others and how to deal with life’s challenges. In other words, we are often unconscious in the process of learning how to lead our lives.
Learning about learning and learning how to learn can be a fun experience, because it allows you to explore the way you perceive life, absorb knowledge, and categorize information you come across every day.
Learning is great, but learning about learning can be just as beneficial, if not more. And that’s precisely what this article will show you.
What Is Learning?
All of us understand the concept of learning, yet the need for a proper definition remains. So how do we define a term that’s so broad and oftentimes denotes such a practical process? In other words, how do we theorize about it?
Luckily, the learning process has been defined by many. A good place to start is Richard E. Mayer’s definition of learning.
the relatively permanent change in a person’s knowledge or behavior due to experience. This definition has three components: 1) the duration of the change is long-term rather than short-term; 2) the locus of the change is the content and structure of knowledge in memory or the behavior of the learner; 3) the cause of the change is the learner’s experience in the environment rather than fatigue, motivation, drugs, physical condition or physiologic intervention.
Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner suggest that learning is “the transformative process of taking in information that - when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced - changes what we know and builds on what we do. It’s based on input, process, and reflection. It is what changes us”.
Finally, according to R.M. Smith,
It has been suggested that the term learning defies precise definition because it is put to multiple uses. Learning is used to refer to (1) the acquisition and mastery of what is already known about something, (2) the extension and clarification of meaning of one’s experience, or (3) an organized, intentional process of testing ideas relevant to problems. In other words, it is used to describe a product, a process, or a function.
It’s important to understand that the learning process also occurs on several different levels. To explain this, we’ll use a system created back in 1956 by Dr. Benjamin Bloom, an educational psychologist. The system is known as Bloom's taxonomy, and consists of three hierarchical models that classify educational learning objectives in a systematic manner.
For the sake of our article and its purposes, we’ll focus on the cognitive domain, which is knowledge-based. At the same time it’s also Bloom’s original version. So, here are the categories along with the authors brief explanations:
- Knowledge - this includes recalling universals and specifics, processes and methods, settings, patterns, structures, and so on.
- Comprehension - in brief, this denotes that an individual knows what is being communicated.
- Application - it means being able to use abstract things in concrete and particular situations.
- Analysis - it refers to the breaking down of a whole into constituent elements.
- Synthesis - conversely, this is putting elements together in order to form a whole.
- Evaluation - it means that individuals should be able to make judgments regarding the value of the materials and the methods that are being presented to them.
Types of Learning
Habituation is a non-associative type of learning in which components of an innate response are said to diminish when the stimulus is repeated. For instance, when you put a new ringtone on your mobile phone, it’ll take some time to get used to it and recognize it, but after some time you become accustomed to it and know that it’s your phone ringing. In other words, you become habituated.
This type of non-associative learning refers to the repeated exposure to a stimulus which typically results in a progressive amplification of a response. This usually happens with children at school waiting for the bell to ring to signal the end of the class.
This is a type of learning that happens at a specific stage of life or age which is very rapid and happens independently from the consequences of the behavior. An example is the baby duck syndrome - when ducklings follow their mother.
This type of learning occurs when a reward or a punishment is given as a result of a specific behavior.
Classical conditioning involves pairing an unconditioned stimulus with a neutral stimulus. A very well-known example is Ivan Pavlov and his dogs.
Observational learning refers to observing others’ behaviors. It’s a form of social learning.
Active learning is when an individual takes active control over their learning process. Learners understand what they know, what they don’t know, and what they need to do/learn/make next.
Play learning refers to behavior whose purpose is to help real-life situations. It’s especially evident among children in their early school years.
Meaningful learning occurs when some newly acquired knowledge is linked to other knowledge and previous information.
Rote learning is when you memorize information in a way that helps you recall it in the same way you’ve heard/read it.
E-leaned refers to computer-based learning.
Multimedia learning is a type of learning which includes both auditory and visual sources and stimuli in order for learners to acquire new knowledge.
Formal learning is learning that takes place within a formal institution such as a university. It’s most frequently used to describe the education system as we know it.
Non-formal learning is learning that’s done outside of any kind of formal learning system.
Informal learning is said to be even less structured than the non-formal one. It may even relate to everyday situations.
Such learning usually occurs after a specific episode or a single event.
Enculturation occurs when people learn behaviors and values which are deemed appropriate in their surrounding culture.
Incidental learning, as the name itself suggests, occurs when individuals don’t consciously plan on learning something, but they end up acquiring that knowledge anyway. This usually happens as a byproduct of some activity - such as observing something/someone, going through a specific experience, interacting with others, attending a particular event, and so on.
This type of learning includes self-education. It occurs when individuals are exposed to a topic and they simply want to learn more about it, so they do research and acquire information on their own.
Dialogic learning is literally what the name suggests it is: learning through dialogue. This type of learning usually includes people providing various arguments and facts based on credible claims rather than power, authority, and dominance. It’s very frequently linked to the Socratic dialogues.
- “the act or experience of one that learns” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary);
- something you do, it can’t be done to you;
- a process;
- both active and passive;
- said to even occur prenatally (for example, while in the womb, babies allegedly begin learning language from their mothers);
- pursuing knowledge;
- meant to trigger your awareness and encourage you to open the doors to new possibilities and information;
- for the curious;
- meant to be a personal experience;
- sorting out relevant from irrelevant content;
- digesting various pieces of information;
- the acquisition of knowledge and information through study and/or experience;
- a change in behavior, attitude, preferences, values, skills, intellectual and mental capacities;
- sometimes meant to make you question everything you know so far;
- can be fast or it may take time depending on one’s pace, but also the thing being learned and analyzed;
- supposed to take your awareness to the next level;
- meant to build up on your previous knowledge;
- embracing one’s cognitive strategies, motivation and deep interest, and one’s intellectual skills;
- also getting to know yourself;
- associated with (but not limited to) the following processes:
- something you ever can completely finish, that is, it’s not a task you can just tick off;
- becoming competent and proficient in everything;
- limited to books and formal education - it has a much wider scope; it may include the environment, interaction with other people, experiences we have on a daily basis, and so on;
- for those convinced they know everything;
- for those not willing to step away from their comfort zone;
- the same as memorizing word for word - it’s much more significant and relevant than that;
- always a “pleasant” experience (for instance, if you’ve burned your hand on a curling iron, you know you’ll have to approach this much more carefully the next time you decide to curl your hair);
- being ignorant or disinterested;
- simply retaining information without any purpose - it’s about connecting them in meaningful contexts;
- the same experience for everybody;
- just getting the hang of things - it’s expected to go much deeper, and should include both understanding and applying the learned knowledge/information/skill;
- supposed to come with a deadline - each person has their own tempo at which they comprehend things; that said, many times we try to understand and/or learn and apply something as quickly as we can, and this usually stems from our school years where we experienced such a learning pace;
- only theoretical - it’s meant to be put into practice too; that said, certain things are directly learned through practice, and there’s little to no theory involved (for example, think about toddlers being potty trained, children learning to eat on their own; an adult trying a cigarette for the first time, and so on).
The History of Learning
Humanity has always engaged in the process of learning and this will never change. What may change is the things we learn and the things we teach others.
That said, certain things and “life lessons” remain the same (more or less). This applies to things such as learning to walk, acquiring resources for one and one’s community, developing technology for security and to more easily facilitate everyday activities, and so on.
But many tend to connect learning with the notion of education. In other words, when someone talks about the history of learning, they expect to hear about the history of education.
As you’ll see later on (especially in the education section), learning doesn’t equal education. It’s a much broader term which doesn’t include grades, testing, assessment, cramming, and so on.
Learning is acquired knowledge. It’s also applied knowledge.
That’s why we believe in life-long learning without presenting a timeline with historic details. So along these lines, the Delors Report comes into play. Now, what’s the Delors Report?
The Delors Report refers to a report created in 1996 by the Delors commission. One of the report’s sections deals with the importance of learning throughout life rather than focusing only on formal education and limited learning. Namely, there are four pillars needed for an individual to truly engage in the learning process properly:
- Learning to know – gaining general knowledge and skills that are relevant for functioning in the real world.
- Learning to do – acquiring skills which prepare people to function in their society as well as within the global economy.
- Learning to be – working on skills such as creativity, analytical reasoning, making personal discoveries, and so on, in order to develop one’s person.
- Learning to live together – this refers to developing social skills and the right values in order to coexist with others.
Self-learning is said to be intrinsic, self-motivated, and voluntary. It can be both for personal and professional reasons. In fact, we are all life-long learners, even if we’re not aware of it.
On the whole, when we talk about learning and its history, we talk about something that’s timeless. It really has no specific beginning nor end. It’s not confined to different societal structures, centuries, or regimes.
Learning just is. It’s both theoretical and practical; logical and illogical; rational and irrational. Learning is all we know and all we’re willing to know.
Why Is Learning Important?
A.J. Agrawal once said: “There are always new skills to learn and techniques to adopt. The most successful people in the world understand that they must continuously learn to be successful. For us to live life to the fullest, we must continually look for ways to improve."
Learning is definitely key to enriching our lives. Being willing to constantly grow, seek new knowledge, and truly question everything you know so far is a gift. However, learning is all about applying what you learn to practice, too.
In other words, learning matters not only because it helps us understand matters in a theoretical way, but it assists us in applying them to real-life scenarios, too. This is the outcome of meaningful learning.
Learning also matters because it makes us feel much more competent about matters we may not have known a lot about, struggled to initially comprehend, and to eventually feel confident to discuss them with others. In essence, being competent brings about a deeper sense of accomplishment and self-confidence.
That said, this doesn’t include ego-based or self-absorbed behavior. It also doesn’t mean we’re suddenly experts at everything - it simply means we’ve decided to take a step further in our personal growth and truly deepen our knowledge about the things that matter to us.
What’s more, learning boosts our critical thinking, too. It helps us consider things from another perspective, come up with new ideas, ask meaningful questions, and even change some of our beliefs and thoughts. The more aware we become of the world and the “knowledge” it offers, the more aware we become of ourselves too.
Learning also matters because it sometimes helps us adjust to unforeseen circumstances and drastic changes. It helps us prepare better for the unexpected, such as losing our job or losing a loved one, getting into a fight with a friend, getting rejected, and so on. While such challenging situations are never easy, being learned and adequately prepared helps us to embrace them and deal with them better.
How To Develop Learning Skills?
All people develop learning skills throughout life, and some better than others. This all depends on certain habits we formed when we were children, how much support we had from our parents, our own motivation. and so on.
Learning happens in various ways, meaning there’s also a plethora of skills that help us engage in the process of learning.
First of all, we can’t stress the importance of working on your reading skills enough. After all, the majority of learning and acquiring new information or knowledge occurs through reading.
Also, don’t forget your decision-making skills. Being a good decision-maker means you learn from your mistakes, but aren’t afraid to take risks either. Decision-making and problem-solving are very important processes because they’re usually extremely practical - they force us to either forget “all theory” or fully apply it into practice. They occasionally may also take us out of our comfort zones.
Working on understanding what’s a priority and what’s not, what matters and what doesn’t, what’s useful and what’s not is very significant. This isn’t an overnight thing, though - it comes with experience, learning, and understanding our own personal beliefs.
What’s more, working on forming healthy habits and leading a balanced lifestyle is a great asset as well. This is so because establishing a disciplined routine, like getting a good night’s sleep, means being full of energy the next day, which can improve our learning skills (regardless of the type of learning being involved).
Also, practice mindfulness. In other words, stay in the moment - whatever it is that you’re doing. Staying focused helps you fully devote yourself to that one thing. It doesn’t matter how serious or basic the thing is - it can be something as simple as cleaning windows, cooking, or tidying your room. Managing to stay in the present moment allows people to fully engage in that experience and all that comes with it.
Examples of Learning in Everyday Life
Let’s be honest - when we hear the word “learning”, most of us immediately associate the term with school, testing, and the act of studying. It’s a word that made many of us cringe, freak out, and panic.
That, however, can’t be further from the truth. Namely, when we associate learning with studying for school, we fail to understand that studying doesn’t always equal learning. In other words, we fail to understand these are two distinct concepts. According to Arinya Talerngsri,
there is a fundamental difference in meaning between the two words. Studying is usually associated with formal education and is more about simply gaining knowledge. Learning, on the other hand, is not just about gaining knowledge but about applying it in situations in your daily life.
This is related to one of the most important questions when it comes to school and education: does the school system prepare us for real life? Do we truly learn what we need to know? Are we provided with the right skills and qualifications as part of our education?
Yet, it seems that there are no precise answers to these questions - only speculations and experts trying to outsmart each other. That said, many believe certain education systems are more practical and more adjusted to real-life settings. Namely, many believe Finland's education system is the best in the world on that front.
We won’t argue whether that’s right or wrong - we only wish to explore different aspects when it comes to learning and schools/education.
Namely, here at Skillsprout we’re committed to providing you with intensive, high-quality online courses - meaning we’re committed to informal learning.
Nowadays, informal learning, or informal education, may serve a much higher purpose than formal education. This is so because it allows people to explore and pursue their true passions without any pressure from examinations and deadlines. Plus, we believe that getting students to apply what they’ve learned in practice is key when it comes to evaluating whether someone has learned something or not.
Such education is empowering, practical, and productive. It’s also immediate and much more affordable than formal education. For instance, if you analyze how much it costs to put a child through college in the US, and compare the amount with informal training - you’ll realize they’re practically incomparable. And we’re not even exaggerating on this - do you know that apparently Americans are said to owe over $1.71 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44.7 million borrowers?
That is a very shocking and concerning statistic.
So, all in all, informal education helps people learn in a more meaningful manner, bridges the gap between real-life events and school, and most importantly, grants students freedom of choice when it comes to approaching the learning process.
Chunking and cramming
Chunking and cramming are both terms used in reference to learning and acquiring information. That said, cramming has a bit of a negative connotation, as it’s usually associated with studying intensively, but for a very short time especially before an exam. It’s said to refer to students mostly, as they tend to cram before their exams.
But can we talk about proper learning if a student tries to absorb information and simply memorize it in an extremely short period of time ONLY to pass an exam? There’s probably zero meaningful learning and/or properly acquired knowledge there, and a lot of memorization techniques involved.
After all, information is basically a set of data that’s given to you already processed based on specific requirements. You get the information, but you don’t necessarily form any meaningful connection with it. On the other hand, having knowledge about something encompasses not just having information, but also insight, adequate experience, and most important of all, an firm grasp and understanding of the subject.
Cramming doesn’t work for long-term material retention. That’s why students are encouraged to study slowly over time by attending classes, participating in class activities, doing homework, reading the course material at a normal pace, taking notes, and so on. That’s critical thinking, but also critical learning!
That said, it’s no wonder that cramming is so popular - it’s because it makes students feel like they cheated the system. In other words, it allows them to get a high grade without putting in a lot of effort or even spending a lot of time preparing for their exam sessions.
A study by the University of Michigan points out that there’s little correlation between the amount of time a student spends studying for an exam and the grade the student gets. This could definitely be one the reasons why cramming is so widely accepted and used.
In terms of chunking - it’s fair to say this one is pretty easy and practical. It refers to the breaking down of information into pieces so that the brain can comprehend the new information in a better way. For example, dividing a larger text into smaller parts to understand it more easily is a good instance of this.
Finally, chunking can definitely be useful when it comes to the informal learning we’ve discussed in the previous section. Cramming, on the other hand, seems somewhat unnecessary, as we’re all for long-term, committed, and continuous learning rather than trying to memorize information in a brief period of time.
How to approach this?
If you’re the educator:
- What’s the main goal of schooling?
- Do you ever contemplate your days as a student? How does it feel to be the educator now? Has this impacted the way you perceive educational institutions and the overall learning experience? If yes, how?
- What’s the most challenging thing about ensuring your pupils/students engage in studying?
- How can you help your educatees learn better?
- How do you deal with pupils/students who think “school is boring”; “learning sucks”; “teachers are strict”, and so on? How can you make them see the beauty of learning instead of further cementing these stereotypical beliefs?
- Do you differentiate between learning and studying? How?
- Do you agree with the following quote: “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn”? (Phil Collins)
- What kind of role do your educatees’ questions play in the classroom? Does it help them in their learning process, connecting with you, and/or expressing their views?
- How do you feel about standardized testing? Do you think they show how much a pupil/student really knows about your subject? What’s more, do you feel it shows their overall knowledge? Think about the pros and the cons that such testing includes.
- If it were up to you, what kind of testing method would you develop? In other words, how would you assess your pupils’/students’ knowledge?
- How can you make learning a fun experience for special-needs pupils/students? Would this include other educatees helping their special-needs classmates?
- Do you feel the pressure to remember all your students? Have you ever come across someone you used to teach a long time ago, but weren’t able to recognize them? Do you think this will impact this person in any way? Also, did it impact you?
- According to you, what does an effective learning environment look like?
- Think about the following quote: “Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, teachers.” (Richard Bach)
- In what way are we all “learners, doers, teachers”?
- Do you think learning has many purposes?
- How does teaching help the teacher learn?
- What’s the most important thing about engaging in teaching?
- What happens if your pupils/students can’t learn in the way you teach?
If you’re the educatee:
- What makes a teacher memorable?
- What does learning mean to you, both on a general level and within a school context?
- The way you see it, is studying the same as learning? Elaborate.
- Is learning easier when you have your peers helping you?
- What do you think about informal education? Is it better than the formal one? If yes, in what way?
- How much are you able to learn during classes as opposed to learning on your own at home?
- Do you feel like you have some resistance to learning subjects you’re not fond of? How do you handle such subjects? Also, does the same apply if you dislike the educator? In other words, do you feel resistant to studying the material if you don’t really like the educator?
- What may impede learning? For instance, if a pupil/student is being bullied by another peer, how will that impact their learning experience?
- What’s the most challenging thing about being a good student?
- How do you feel when you learn things for your own satisfaction vs when you’re preparing for a test/exam?
- Is going to school/uni an enjoyable experience for you? Why? Why not?
- What’s the best thing about learning your favorite subject at school/university? And vice versa, what’s the most challenging aspect about learning something you dislike or you’re not good at?
- What’s your learning style?
- How much does the method of instruction (that is, how a teacher teaches) affect your concentration and learning?
- If you could change anything about your school/university, what would it be? Why?
- Can you imagine being an educator? What would you do differently? How would you approach your pupils/students? How would you assess them? And more importantly, how can you make sure they learn the material?
- What do you think are some of the educatees’ barriers to asking questions in the classroom? Have you ever dealt with this? If yes, think about the impact it had on you. Also, how can educators encourage educatees to ask more questions? Do you think this (that is, the act of actively participating in the class) can enrich your learning experience?
Efficient workers (regardless of whether you’re an employee at a firm, a CEO, a teacher, or a doctor) engage in life-long learning. And there isn’t one, fixed type of learning. But before we get deeper into it, the question arises: why is this need for constant progress and development so noticeable? What’s changing the business industry so much? Josh Bersinand and Marc Zao-Sanders suggest that
As automation, AI, and new job models reconfigure the business world, lifelong learning has become accepted as an economic imperative. Eighty percent of CEOs now believe the need for new skills is their biggest business challenge. For employees, research now shows that opportunities for development have become the second most important factor in workplace happiness (after the nature of the work itself). At the most fundamental level, we are a neotenic species, born with an instinct to learn throughout our lives.
How can you know what type of learning you should be on the lookout for? Well, that depends on:
- your profession;
- your current job position;
- the opportunities offered to you, also those you actively seek out;
- the skills you already have;
- your professional aspirations;
- the goals you’ve set to achieve;
- and your overall commitment to your professional development.
That said, there are certain skills we dare say apply to all jobs (more or less). For instance, all workers should learn to be professional. Professionalism not only speaks highly of you as a worker, but as a person as well. It also helps others perceive the company/brand you’re representing in a better light.
Don’t forget about strategic thinking. This is something that develops passively as you actively engage in the work you do. But consciously working on becoming an even better thinker comes in handy at all times. Design thinking is a relevant example here, too.
In any case, it’s good to take a proactive approach to professional development and learning. Subscribe to relevant newsletters, join webinars and conferences (you could even ask your employer to pay for them), and/or read books relevant to your industry. Choose them with great care. Make sure they’re all relevant and high-quality. Think about your potential and take your pick. Make learning a habit. Whatever you do - take concrete action. Don’t forget to track your progress as well.
Finally, try to learn from others. Going to work should be much more than securing a stable income, being nice to colleagues/clients, and doing your part. It’s about observing and learning from your peers too - both the things you should do and those you shouldn't.
Also, learning from someone at work who’s already skilled in a specific area will not only make you a better worker, but may bring you a new, loyal friend at work, too.
How to approach this?
If you’re the employer:
- What does having an educated employee mean to you? Is it someone who has the necessary qualifications and skills, proper background knowledge and/or has the willingness to constantly work on themselves?
- How do you usually measure performance? Also, do you know what your employees think about it? In other words, do they agree with your approach?
- How can you make sure you’re staying on top of your game as an employer? What time of professional development do you engage in?
- What can you learn from your employees and what do you want them to learn from you?
- What are some qualities you’re proud to possess? How can you encourage others to learn/adopt them?
- How can you help your employees complete their assignments better? Also, do you think you should help them at all or just let them handle things their own way?
- Do you think an employer should be a leader, a guide, a team player or all of them?
- What’s your biggest influence when it comes to how you do your job? Who do you learn from? Who do you consult?
- Can you think of a mistake you’ve made early on in your career? What did you learn from it? Have you repeated that same mistake again?
- Who do you go to when things get tough?
- What traits make a good employer? Also, how can you improve?
- What has led you to this career? Do you think you can somehow be even better? If yes, how? What is it that you need to do/make/learn in order to make that happen?
- What’s something you’re currently learning/working on that you’re trying to make a habit?
- Has your job position, that is, being an employer, changed you in any way as a person? If yes, how so?
- What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since being an employer?
- What’s the worst thing about being an employer?
- What kind of relationship do you have with your employees? Is it strictly professional or maybe on some level personal, too?
- If someone wants to become an employer, what advice would you share with them?
If you’re the employee:
- What’s one professional skill you’re currently working on? Also, how are you working on it?
- What does it mean to have a job position that encourages you to grow, learn and expand your knowledge as an employee?
- Do you know what the standard route of progression is for your position?
- When you’re having a bad day at work, how do you handle it? And what have you learned from such days?
- What can you learn from your employer?
- What can you learn from your peers?
- Also, what do you wish others to learn from you?
- How do you start your work day?
- How do you end it?
- How have you changed since your early days at this job position? Are these changes (positive or negative)? Is there anything you wish you would have done differently? What skills and behaviors do you need to adopt/learn in order to make such changes now?
- What’s the most productive part of your day?
- What’s something you’ve done at work, but would never do again? Why?
- What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far in your current job?
- Do you feel that you contribute to your company’s goals? If yes, in what way? Also, how can you contribute even more?
- What type of behavior and/or personality trait do you owe you success to? Why?
- What’s the best advice a peer ever gave you? What was it about?
- What energizes you at work and what drains you? Do you struggle to find your balance?
- What do you like the most about your company? What do you think your company should do to attract more potential employees?
- How can your peers better support you in what you’re doing?
- Do you think your company makes its employees feel like they’re part of a professional environment that encourages and facilitates learning?
- Do you think constant work, learning, and overachieving may lead to burn out, or it’s a sign of a diligent employee?
- Do you have a working routine?
- Do things ever get monotonous for you? If they do, how do you keep going? What’s your approach?
- What are your takeaways and/or “lessons” from this week in particular?
- Name one thing you’re currently learning that:
- you’re good at;
- you’re struggling with;
- you absolutely hate, but need to know.
Awareness of the World
How aware are we of the world around us? The people we meet? The experiences we have every day? The opportunities surrounding us? The solutions to our problems and the help that pops up seemingly out of nowhere?
Not so much?
No matter what we’re dealing with in life, we need to be aware, at least to a degree. And a lot of the time we learn this the hard way. We learn the importance of health after we get sick; we understand the meaning of love when someone leaves us; we learn how much education matters after some scholarship opportunity is gone; we understand the suffering of life after a loved one dies.
We learn each day that there’s always more learning to be done, and this is okay. In fact, that’s how life is supposed to be - a series of lessons. Lessons on morals, love, friendship, money, and so on.
Some lessons come and are forgotten, others stay and make us feel as though we’re stuck. Yet other times, it feels like smooth sailing. But it’s all a part of life. And it all comes down to learning how to be more aware of the world around you so that you can make the most of it.
Facing life and its challenges isn’t always easy, but moving through it all successfully teaches us about the importance of moving forward. Also, it teaches us about our next move and decision. Srikumar Rao offers a great explanation:
Just being aware of what you are about to do greatly diminishes the tendency to do what you don’t want to.
You will pull your hand back from that pizza slice, tell the waitress that you are passing on dessert, put on your gym shoes instead of going under the comforter, and take several deep breaths instead of screaming at your daughter.
Finally, it’s important to understand that this type of learning is rarely theoretical. It doesn’t come with strict instructions and rules, doesn’t follow a formula, and definitely doesn’t affect everyone in the same way.
It’s learning that happens as part of life, and each time we master one aspect of it, life takes us onto another.
Another type of awareness and learning
Life isn’t only learning about the deep, metaphorical, and abstract notions. It’s also about learning to satisfy your basic needs, understand relationships, and adjust accordingly.
Of course, these things depend on our age, gender, economic context, familial relations, and so on. That’s why, unfortunately, girls are taught certain behaviors as they grow up, while boys are taught others. For instance, from a very early age, girls are taught they need to pay attention to how they dress and are perceived as being “weaker”, whereas boys are discouraged from crying and/or showing emotions.
Throughout life we learn a wide range of things:
- to drive a car;
- make our beds;
- read and write;
- play with toys and with friends;
- mow grass;
- feed zoo animals;
- speak and understand language(s);
- learn some strategy games such as chess;
- buy cinema tickets;
- buy gifts;
- take up a new hobby;
- climb a mountain;
- tie your shoelaces;
- use the phone;
- unlock doors;
- light a candle, and so on.
There are so many random activities we learn to do that it’s impossible to mention all of them. In fact, we’re not aware of how we learned most of them in the first place! What’s more, sometimes we’re not conscious of all the things we’ve actually had to learn while growing up and everything we continued to learn well into adulthood!
This is so because we’ve forgotten some of them - but also because we weren’t really paying attention. In other words, sometimes the “learning process” can be so subtle that it may even appear trivial to talk about certain things as having to be taught (even self-taught) things like playing with a ball, making your bed, and buying tickets.
That said, it’s also important to mention that all these “activities” are interconnected. Namely, the activities we’ve outlined in this section, and those we discussed in the previous one are interlinked. For instance, by learning to mow the grass , we learn to connect with nature; by taking up a new hobby, we learn about the importance of following one's passions; by making our beds and arranging our clothes, we learn how significant it is to build discipline early on in life, and so on.
Such experiences and lessons, no matter how small, are meaningful beyond what you may imagine.
Finally, any type of learning isn’t something we fully do on our own. In fact, it’s very much connected to the relationships we form in life. Paradoxically, forming those relationships is also a learning experience.
Through engaging with other people we not only learn about them and their behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes, but we learn a lot about ourselves and our character, too.
Interpersonal relationships are one of the most important pillars in our lives. They teach us about the importance of social interaction, emotional intelligence, and support. They shape our character, challenge our beliefs, and bring about our emotional growth.
What’s more, spending time with our loved ones reduces stress and brings about physical and emotional wellbeing. In other words, being in the presence of people we love and appreciate is a source of happiness. It also provides us with a sense of completion and gives life a purpose.
Of course, throughout our lives, we meet people who challenge us and it feels like they have the ability to bring out the worst in us. While such encounters and connections are never pleasant, they have their meaning and place in life, so they should be cherished in their own, special way. Nothing can help us learn and grow than dealing with people we don’t see eye to eye with.
That said, we don’t learn only through our interactions with other people. Namely, we can learn a lot through forming a bond with our pets, too. And we do learn a lot!
We can’t help but think of the following extract from John Grogan’s book Marley and Me:
A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things-a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.
Our pets show us that we can love someone even when proper verbal communication is lacking; they show us that sometimes, we can care much more deeply for animals than for other people; they teach us to have more fun and take life less seriously.
And although these so-called lesions may be subtle and not as direct as others that life throws at us - they’re still very much relevant.
How to approach this?
- Do you have the confidence and the skills to lead the life you desire?
- What can you learn from the people in your life? And vice versa - what can they learn from you?
- According to you, what’s the most important personality trait someone can possess? What’s the worst one?
- Do you feel that people value you? Has there been a moment in life when you didn’t feel properly valued? Who made you feel that way? What happened next? What kind of impact did that have on you?
- What new things are you learning at the moment?
- How open are you to trying new things in life - such as horse riding, cooking, painting, learning new languages, playing chess, and so on?
- Do you have any hobbies?
- What are some tough lessons you’ve had to learn in life?
- How can you learn to set more healthy boundaries with others in your life?
- In general, are you happy with the way your life looks? What are some areas that you still need to work on? What areas are currently thriving?
- Do you spend enough time on your education? How focused are you on self-improvement?
- What do you think about self-help books?
- What’s something that you can learn to do that you’re currently not doing?
- Where is your career going? How can you be better at what you do? Is there something else you need to learn to be a better and more skilled worker?
- Do you think people should learn to be more grateful for the things they already have instead of constantly focusing on what they lack?
- What does the following teach you about life:
- having a child?
- going through a breakup?
- having a pet?
- getting fired?
- doubting yourself and your skills?
- not seizing opportunities?
- dealing with a serious illness?
- losing a friend?
- feeling betrayed?
- going through a divorce?
- letting go of your childhood dreams?
- getting into a fight with your partner?
- being single?
- getting lied to?
- giving up on a career you wanted?
- being in a committed relationship?
- How can you become a better person? What...
- habits do you need to drop?
- beliefs should you get rid of?
- behaviors do you need to change?
- skills should you improve?
Famous Quotes About Learning
“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”
“…it’s not just learning that’s important. It’s learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learn things that matters.”
“The most necessary task of civilization is to teach people how to think. It should be the primary purpose of our public schools. The mind of a child is naturally active, it develops through exercise. Give a child plenty of exercise, for body and brain. The trouble with our way of educating is that it does not give elasticity to the mind. It casts the brain into a mold. It insists that the child must accept. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning, and it lays more stress on memory than observation.”
“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.”
“When learning is purposeful, creativity blossoms. When creativity blossoms, thinking emanates. When thinking emanates, knowledge is fully lit. When knowledge is lit, economy flourishes.”
“Learning is by nature curiosity... prying into everything, reluctant to leave anything, material or immaterial, unexplained.”
“At its highest level, the purpose of teaching is not to teach—it is to inspire the desire for learning. Once a student's mind is set on fire, it will find a way to provide its own fuel.”
“Growing up means learning what life is. When you're little, you have a set of ideals, standards, criteria, plans, outlooks, and you think that you have to sit around and wait for them to happen to you and then life will work. But life isn't like that, for anybody; you can't fall in love with a standard, you have to fall in love with a person. You can't live in a criteria, you have to live your life. You can't wait for your plans to materialize, because they may never materialize the way you think they will. You can't wait to watch your ideals and standards walk up to you, because you can't know what's yours until you have it. I always say, always take the first chance in case you never get a second one, but growing up takes that even one step further, growing up means that you have to hold on to what you have, when you have it, because what you have- that's yours- and all the ideals and criteria you have set in your head, those aren't yours, because those haven't happened to you.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What are some factors that affect the learning process?
There are many factors that affect the learning process. They can be external, internal, and epigenetic.
One of the most common external factors that have an impact on the learning process is the physical environment of the learner. The design, the quality, the overall space - they all crucially affect securing a successful learning outcome.Even the light, the acoustics, ventilation, temperature, and air are quite significant. What matters is also how many people there are in the room, what they’re doing, and so on. Of course, some of these details will apply to spaces such as classrooms and amphitheatres.
Factors such as the learner’s food intake, vitamin deficiency, and other physical conditions play a role, too. Bad health, tiredness, and body fatigue can heavily impact the learning process.
Internal factors such as the learners’ personal motivation, overall behavior and attitude toward the learning process can either progress or regress the learning experience.
It’s important to define one’s goals and purposes when it comes to engaging in any learning process. For instance, if you’re taking driving lessons, ask yourself: am I prepared to be a driver? Do I understand the consequences that come with driving? Am I prepared to face them? Am I mature enough to drive?
We need to keep in mind the learners’ focus, attention and interest. Being able to stay focused on a single subject, remain attentive, and remain interested in the same matter for a certain period of time doesn’t come easily to everyone.
Aptitude is a major factor, too. Aptitude is one’s natural ability to acquire knowledge and learn. That’s why some people are naturally better at maths and science, and others excel at sports. A third group of individuals may show affinity for the arts.
We can’t forget the learners’ emotions and overall state of being. For instance, someone who is agitated, frustrated, anxious, and depressed will struggle with memorizing new information, understanding content, and acquiring knowledge. On the other hand, keeping an open mind and being positive helps things run smoother.
Of course, many times our emotions are influenced by other factors and circumstances in our lives so we’re not always fully in control when it comes to how we feel at all times.
Lastly, we need to consider accuracy, speed, and retention. These are all very individual and shouldn't be generalized.
Factors such as DNA, neurons, and gene expression are much more important than we may initially think.
For instance, there are studies suggesting that although schools may be doing a good job of educating pupils, the remaining differences between pupils are down to genetics.
You don’t need to be a researcher or a scientist to understand the correlation between genetics and one’s learning abilities. Our genes and our brains play a part in what we are. who we are, and why we are the way we are.
So let’s not forget the brain and its beauty. If we don't understand the brain’s power and ability, we probably won’t be able to fully understand how we learn/memorize information. So, to wrap things up properly, here are some facts about the correlation between the brain and the learning process:
- Stress can affect one’s memory and may even lead to cognitive decline later on.
- We produce new brain cells throughout our lives.
- Your brain can be tricked into performing better.
- The brain is able to filter out information and decide what matters and what doesn’t.
- Uncertainty helps us learn better because predictable situations don’t challenge the brain as much as unpredictable outcomes do.
- When the brain’s faced with strong memories, it’s capable of prioritizing the high-reward ones.
Finally, while our brains and our genes may be significant, let us not forget the other factors we’ve just discussed. All three types of factors are needed in order for people to have a proper learning experience.
When does learning become a stressful activity?
Stress and learning - many claim they do not go well together. There are different scenarios and reasons for this.
For example, sometimes you may be required to learn something during stressful times (for instance, learning during the COVID-19 pandemic is definitely considered a challenging experience) which will definitely affect your learning capacity; then, learning about matters which are sensitive or you may perceive as stressful might also make the experience itself stressful, even without any external factors triggering it.
It’s also important to consider the context.. For instance, if you’re reading a speech just for fun, it’s different than if you’re reading that speech because you need to deliver it in front of an audience. Obviously, you’ll struggle with learning and memorizing it properly; you may deal with stage fright; and so on.
In other words, we always need to consider the specific circumstances to understand the whole concept. Stress is never nice if it’s overwhelming, impedes our abilities, makes us feel incapable, paralyzed, and/or anxious.
That said, a little stress every now and then may, in fact, increase our learning capacity. According to Ulrike Rimmele, a professor of psychology at the University of Geneva,
Usually it increases our ability to learn. We remember best the things and events that trigger emotions. [...] For example, in the future when we talk about this Covid-19 era, it is likely that everyone will remember where they were and what they were doing during that time. An increased ability to memorise is due to the activation of the amygdala, a small almond-shaped part of the brain. The adrenalin of the fast system activates the nerve systems in the amygdala, which then makes connections that lead to a memory representation of a specific event. The amygdala is where the emotionality of the memory is located.
What are some learning models?
You may know that we understand how things work based on our mental models, but it’s also useful to know that we learn things by using different learning models, too.
A learning model refers to any form of acquiring new information, skills, knowledge, and so on. Such models come in various subcategories. Here are the most common ones:
1) Kolb Learning Style Model
The Kolb learning style model is also frequently referred to as “the experiential learning theory”. It’s named after David A. Kolb, an American educational theorist who was interested in experimental learning.
In his well-known model, Kolb stated that the process of learning is a cycle and it consists of four stages:
- Concrete learning - in the first stage, the learner is said to either experience something new or is exposed to old and familiar experiences.
- Reflective observation - here, the learner usually reflects on their experiences. It’s important to understand that this reflection is heavily dependent on the learner’s personal beliefs and interpretations.
- Abstract conceptualization - in this stage, based on the understanding and the interpretation that took place in the previous step, the learner engages in abstract conceptualization. This means that fresh ideas are created or older ones are adjusted and properly modified.
- Active experimentation - this is the last stage. Here, it’s all about understanding everything that has been implied in the previous three stages. The learner is able to experiment with these new “learnings” in practice too.
Moreover, we distinguish among four types of learners:
- Convergers - these learners are said to usually keep their focus on the third and the fourth stage outlined above. These are learners that enjoy experimenting and applying things in a practical manner.
- Divergers - such learners are more creative in the process and they’re generally identified with the first two stages.
- Assimilators - these learners need the support of information. They prefer reflection and conceptualization because that’s how they absorb information most efficiently.
- Accommodators - such individuals tend to embrace new tasks willingly. They’re very practical and that’s probably why they’re associated with the last stage.
2) VARK Learning Style Model
The acronym VARK stands for: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic learning style (hence its name). This model suggests that each learner learns things best through one of these processes.
This means visual learners are able to recall things they see much better than things they hear, for instance (this includes visual aids such as graphs, charts, certain symbols, and so on). Auditory learners can comprehend information best via audio sources (tapes, videos, lectures, and discussions); kinesthetic learners acquire knowledge simply by experiencing stuff (touching, moving, doing), and so on.
Of course, many learners combine various learning styles depending on their preferences.
That’s why learners are divided into two groups. The first group are the learners that are able to switch between these four learning styles depending on the situation. The second group includes learners (which are mistakenly referred to as “slow learners”) who have only one preferred type of learning.
3) Gregorc Learning Model
This learning model is deeply concerned with the way the mind functions. So, this model suggests that individuals’ perceptual abilities are the foundation of their learning style.
So, the first learning style is concrete sequential learning. The learners fond of this learning style typically learn through hands-on experience. Also, the senses are engaged in such learning.
The other one is concrete random learning. These learners memorize things fairly quickly, but their interpretation is based on previous knowledge. For instance, if you’re learning to play a new instrument then learners will try to recall what playing another instrument was like.
There are also abstract sequential learners, too. These learners are in need of an organized learning environment which includes a wide range of learning tools (especially visual sources) in order to secure a successful learning outcome.
Finally, the abstract random learners are said to function in a somewhat disorganized manner. They have their own way of organizing information depending on their personal preference and interpretation.
4) Hermann Brain Dominance Model
The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) is a learning model which identifies the learning preferences of learners. It was developed by William "Ned" Herrmann, an American creativity researcher and author.
This model suggests that learners can be innovators, organizers, humanitarians, or theorists.
Theorists usually prefer sequential learning, so they’re quite good at memorizing information. Organizers can acquire new knowledge only if all the information is arranged in a systematic manner. Innovators are said to use their existing knowledge along with their creativity. Finally, the humanitarians’ learning process consists of expressing ideas and emotions.
Hermann also identified four different modes of thinking: analytical thinking, sequential thinking, interpersonal thinking, and imaginative thinking. Rather than building an arbitrary hierarchy between the various ways of learning (or thinking), we should recognize the beauty and necessity of their versatility.
All in all, learning models are useful because they encourage people and educational systems to experiment with different forms of learning until they find something that works. In other words, these models help us learn things in the way that’s right and comfortable for each of us.
Suggestions for Further Reading
How do we learn more?
How do we embrace new knowledge?
How do we approach life from a new perspective?
How can we improve?
The answer is always the same: by reading. Yes, after all this time, reading still seems to be the best way to learn. This only shows us that some of the “old ways” are really the most efficient when it comes to self-improvement, and that applies to reading, too. Azar Nafizi explains the power of reading and its impact brilliantly:
You don't read Gatsby, I said, to learn whether adultery is good or bad but to learn about how complicated issues such as adultery and fidelity and marriage are. A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.
So, for those wishing to further their learning process, below are some book recommendations, and while they’re not really novels, they will “heighten your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals”.
- 1. How to Find Yourself: Self-Discovery, Self-Awareness, and Life Design for Maximum Fulfillment, by Nick Trenton
- The Art of Learning, by Josh Waitzkin
- The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, by Josh Waitzkin
- Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens, by Barbara Oakley Ph.D
- The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony With Your Brain, by Terry Doyle, Todd D. Zakrajsek, and Kathleen F. Gabriel
- Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel
- Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide, by Yana Weinstein, Megan Sumeracki, and Oliver Caviglioli
- How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice, by Paul A. Kirschner, and Carl Hendrick
- Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know, by Adam Grant
- Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career, by Scott Young
- Mind Mapping: Improve Memory, Concentration, Communication, Organization, Creativity, and Time Management (Mental Performance), by Kam Knight
- The Science of Rapid Skill Acquisition: Advanced Methods to Learn, Remember, and Master New Skills and Information (Learning how to Learn), by Peter Hollins
Learning is a process that’s meant to help you gain a better understanding of things. What’s more, being able to understand how to learn better is a big plus. It follows that exploring the learning process itself is an exceptionally rewarding and enriching experience on its own.
And we offer it.
Here at Skillsprout, we’re committed to offering high-quality online courses on a variety of topics. For those keen to learn a lot - we do feel you’ll end up joining several of our courses.
But for those of you just starting out - you may wish to join us on our learning-how-to-learn adventure. We’ll cover:
- what a schema is, schema building, and memory;
- the testing effect, the illusion of competence, and overlearning;
- the connections between: mental health and learning; diet and learning; exercise and learning; stress and learning;
- the different modes of thinking;
- the neuroscience of learning: neurons, structural brain changes, and paying attention.
Anton Chekhov said: “Wisdom.... comes not from age, but from education and learning”, and if we can help you get even a single step closer to wisdom, then we’ve done our job.
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