How Do You Learn?


Looking back at my career, I focused on working hard but what did I learn?  My natural tendency is to do.  I am action oriented.  I don’t read the manual before I start something, instead I jump straight in.  Sometimes this leads to rework and that is one way to learn.  Definitely not the most effective.  Learning through doing is also serving me well.  Often I need to suffer some pain before I learn this isn’t a good way to proceed.

We need a balance of conceptual and practical learning

At Oyster, we have been exploring our methods for teaching others.  This involves understanding how our clients learn.  Our goal is to spread our development work between conceptual and practical learning.  Understanding it, doesn’t mean you can do it.  Even though, we often think it does, or at least act that way.

To support our development goals, we use the Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle.  This may sound technical, but don’t worry, it is a pretty simple way of describing how we learn.  Understanding it has helped me become a more effective learner.  So what is the Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle?

The Kolb learning cycle

The cycle covers four key elements of learning.  Concrete experience, reflection, conceptual learning and planning.  Let’s say you are trying something new, perhaps a conversational skill.  You start by doing it.  I ask my clients to do this and notice what happens.  Noticing is the reflection piece.  What happened?  How did they feel?  What worked, what didn’t? This reflection sets up the next stage in the learning cycle, conceptual learning.  Coming out of the reflection, what patterns or themes are useful for future?  These are things that will help me be successful why I try again.  The final stage is to plan how we will practice and embody that conceptual learning.

Practicing that conceptual learning brings us back to concrete experience.  We practice and the loop starts over again.  David Kolb has found we all favor one of these learning styles.  For example learning by doing or through reflection and conceptual learning.  By adopting the learning cycle, we don’t rely on our favored learning style and instead develop a more rounded approach.  This leads to better results.

As I mentioned at the start, I prefer to learn by doing.  What is your favored learning style?  And by relying on it, what are you missing?