Join Gary Bolles for an in-depth discussion in this video Understand the phases of how we learn, part of Learning Agility.
- Now, researchers tend to agree that we all learn in four phases. You begin by having a growing interest in a topic or in developing a new skill. Think of that initial interest as a spark or a match that suddenly lights up. You might have read an article or a book. Someone may have suggested you watch a video or even take a course. Or maybe it's something you were interested in when you were younger, you forgot about it, and then suddenly you picked it up again. Now, when you're starting out on a learning journey, you're obviously not very knowledgeable about it or proficient at it.
More often than not, you might learn a little and then stop. If you hit a stumbling block, you might try to convince yourself that, well, you weren't really all that interested in the first place. You probably have had lots of these little sparks throughout your life, many of these little matches of interest that light up in your mind. And sometimes, when you were motivated enough, you kept going. So it usually helps us to push through that first initial phase and continue on a learning journey. It comes down to motivation.
If you're fascinated by a topic, if you're having fun with it, or if you're deeply committed to your learning journey, then you'll be motivated to learn more. So whether you're studying knitting or interior design or astrophysics, I'm hoping you're enjoying yourself or at least cutting yourself some slack if you're not immediately good at it. Now, in the second phase of learning, you become familiar with the topic by filling out your knowledge. This is where it's important to work to be relatively complete in your understanding of the subject, filling in the gaps wherever possible, so you don't have major holes in your learning.
With some topics, like knitting, that's reasonably easy. With astrophysics, it's going to take a little longer and probably a lot longer. That's why, once you're into this second phase of learning, it's often helpful to follow some kind of learning plan, hopefully in collaboration with a teacher or learning group or through an online course, so others who know the topic well can help point you in the right direction. If the first phase of learning was like generating a spark or lighting a match, then the second phase is like building up a fire.
You're laying down the foundation for something that will stay warm in your mind for a long time. Now, in the third phase of learning, you practice what you've learned. This is where it's important to test your knowledge of a topic through a variety of activities that allow you to solidify that learning. Whether it's by repetition or through testing, this is where you do your best to hone your knowledge through activities, for example, working on a variety of knitting projects or repeatedly testing your knowledge of astrophysics.
Now, if this third phase is challenging, remember, we don't call the process trial and success. The reason it's trial and error is, well, we're all trial and error machines. We can learn best when we continually iterate our learning, based on the mistakes that we make. Just try to do as my friend Esther Dyson recommends and make new mistakes. Practice some aspect of your new knowledge or skill, like a particular stitch in knitting or a particular concept in astrophysics, and then get really good at it.
Then go on to learn some other aspect of your subject. This is like throwing a few big logs on the fire of your learning. You're continuing to stoke the fire and ensuring that it will keep burning. Now, in the fourth and final phase of learning, you're able to apply what you've learned. You don't just follow the knitting patterns that others have created, you're able to knit something entirely new on your own. If you've delved deeply into astrophysics, then you'll be able to see many of the core functions of physics that apply to other areas of science.
You'll also find that for knowledges that are transferable to different circumstances, you'll be able to apply what you've learned in other situations. For example, if you learned to use a technique, like design thinking, in your work, you'll probably find it's also useful in a variety of problems solving situations with your hobbies. Think of this fourth phase as having built a fire that will keep on burning for a long time. You've stoked a passion in yourself, and the warm and light from that fire will help to sustain you for a long time to come.
- How people learn
- Creating a learning wish list
- Establishing a learning plan
- Prioritizing within a learning plan
- Committing to learning
- Making progress toward learning goals