Incomplete Learning

I had two lunch meetings last week and the topic of learning came up. I argued for the appreciation of the distinction between simply learning something and integrating that learning so that change is not only made, but it sticks.

We all seem to learn things all the time. Our sources vary from random conversations, TV, social media, internet, blogs, books, articles, to formal or organized learning programs and events. Just because we learn something does not mean that the learning has resulted in some positive change or change that lasts.

This is not fair, but diets are a great example. Before we jump on any diet, we often get a good dose of why the diet is healthy. We learn. Another example is listening to a speaker about tips on being more organized at work or a how to be a better leader. We nod our heads and have very good learning moments. We realize what we have learned is actually beneficial to us, and some of us actually start making a change. Unfortunately, these changes do not last and we revert to the old ways. This is what I mean by incomplete learning.

Complicit in this tragedy, and I do consider it a tragedy, are the teachers. As teachers, people come to us, and we go to extreme measures to make sure what we teach is fun, interesting, and well-researched so that in can be learned. And therein lies the problem. We only make sure it is learned. We, teachers, do not try to figure out ways to make sure it sticks long-term.

Academia is especially guilty here. School teachers and professors teach. The measure of whether you have learned or not are the tests and exams they give. There is NO measure to gauge whether that learning actually stuck and resulted in a positive change for the learner. The learner is equally culpable. Why would we spend so much time and money learning something, or sending our kids to colleges to learn, knowing well that there is no plan to make sure that these learnings are sustainable?

It is my contention that no learning has a chance to stick without a structured plan of reinforcement for a minimum of six months. Once you have learned something, figure out a way to repeat that learning by continuously applying it in real life for at least six months. To guarantee that is really sticks, plan for a year. This is what world-class athletes do. It’s why Olympians train for years for an event that lasts just a few minutes. They analyze every inch of their performance and practice, practice, and practice some more. The secret to greatness has never been a secret. It’s constant learning and integration of that learning.

This week, make a plan to reinforce one thing that you have already learned.

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2 responses to “Incomplete Learning

  1. Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) does a good job of describing the levels of learning that most teachers aspire to fulfill, particularly at the college level. They are, in order from lowest to highest:

    Knowledge (recall)
    Comprehension (interpreting)
    Application (problem-solving using the information)
    Analysis (examining, making inferences from the information)
    Synthesis (combining elements in a new pattern)
    Evaluation (making judgments about the information)

    As a college teacher, I use rubrics to ensure that the learning I give my students goes through to the synthesis and evaluation stages. Application is only the third level. No doubt the learning continues as information is used over time; however, this does not mean that educational institutions are dropping the ball. Some may be, but not all. The problem is when teachers stop at recall.

  2. The transfer of learning is key to ROI in L & D/training. I like to insist on practical job aids with training to support transfer.

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