Learning to learn

One of the seven habits of successful people identified by American academic Stephen Covey (1932-2102) is learning to improve or self-renewal.

Practical wisdom, intelligence and rigour require reflective learning and development on that experience. Practice is a learning journey to evolve practical products and services.

So how do we learn how to learn?

Do you think of your mind as a bucket or a muscle?

If you answer ‘a bucket’, that implies you believe that you have a fixed intelligence and ability – you are born somewhere on the smart– stupid scale and there is little you can do to change that. It results in statements like ‘I can’t do mathematics so I might as well give up.’

If you answer ‘a muscle’, that implies you believe you can get smarter by effort and learning. Note this is not just learning new facts but moving through the stages from novice to master and from purpose to performance.

We believe that your mind is like a muscle. So how do we develop it to go on a learning journey? Benjamin Bloom identified three domains of learning: cognitive, affective and psychomotor. The cognitive domain includes knowing, remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, synthesising, evaluating and creating.

The affective domain includes feeling, listening, attending, participating, valuing, organising and internalising. Skills in the affective domain describe the way people react emotionally and their ability to feel other living things’ pain or joy.

The psychomotor domain includes doing, having manual or physical skills, perceiving, being ready to act, practicing, having capability, having expertise, being adaptable and originating.

Lectures, reading, audio-visual demonstrations or questions and answers are routinely used to impart (cognitive) knowledge.

Our other skills may not be specifically addressed. Listening, attending and internalising (affective) skills and perceiving and practicing (psychomotor) skills may be recognised but they are usually picked up almost by accident.

Group discussions, dialogue and role-playing exercises can help cognitive understanding and can encourage affective responding and psychomotor mechanisms. Mentoring, coaching and self-learning by trial and error help cognitive evaluating, affective internalising and psychomotor originating.

In 1974 Argyris and Schon introduced single-, double- and triple- loop learning.
Single-loop learning is accumulating facts or following and changing simple rules and a basis for continual improvement.

Double-loop learning depends on our learning power’ (see later). It involves monitoring, discussing, challenging and modifying models of understanding with critical thinking and creative ‘thinking outside the box’.  Double-loop learning is a basis for incremental change.

Tripleloop learning is restructuring how we think by learning how to learn. It is reflective learning that can help us redefine boundaries, widen or change contexts and shift paradigms or shared cognitive frameworks of assumptions and ways of thinking. Triple-loop learning is a basis for transformative change.

Traditional assessments of education are aimed at either intelligence (IQ tests) or achievement (examinations). Very little attention has been given to assessing experience, motivation, intelligences and dispositions. Deakin-Crick et al. see learning power as a set of interwoven capacities, dispositions, attitudes or mental and emotional outlooks that cross Bloom’s three domains.

Learning power is a set of learning dispositions such as learning to learn, critical curiosity, meaning making, resilience and perseverance, creativity, relationships (valuing interdependence) and strategic  awareness (understanding your own learning).

The stages of a learning journey are: forming a learning identity and purpose, developing learning power, generating knowledge and know-how, applying or performing learning in authentic contexts, sustaining learning relationships. For more on this see learning emergence.

But how do we learn our way through complex problems? We need to identify some learning journeys.