When learning it really happens

Did the learning of it really happen or was there just a lot of teaching, instructing, presenting, educating, training or facilitating going on? We can recognize whether learning it has really happened from evidence of:
  • not only talking about it, but actually doing it, getting it accomplished, showing how it's done correctly
  • not only complying with procedures, but getting the result, achieving the outcome, producing the intended effect
  • not only espousing the concepts, but understanding the reasoning, realizing the value, looking after the underlying purpose
  • not only trying to adopt it, but successfully integrating it into work routines, replacing old habits, making significant changes
  • not only making a thing of learning it, but maintaining a continual process of exploring it, experimenting with it and refining it
When really learning it happens, many different conditions within a pro-learning ecology have supported this occurrence:

The learners' brains got enough sleep the night before in order to pay attention throughout the programme. Then they got enough sleep after to rehash the learning experience from many different perspectives in order to internalize some changes in memory. The learners got enough blood flow to the brain to nurture the construction of new neural connections. The learners' right brains were activated with awareness of creative possibilities in what is being learned and how it was getting experienced, while their limbic systems were pleasantly aroused without handling dangers or loss of control.

The learners' personal histories allowed for really learning it to happen. The learners have been framed as capable and internalized the confidence to utilize a successful approach. The story the learners re-enact ends up with desirable outcomes which confirms their "facts of life" and sense of fate. They are putting faith in receiving authentic learning experiences and it comes about as they imagine it with feeling, intend it with conviction or anticipate it with sincere appreciation. They are believing "I am a learner for whom learning really happens" - so be it.

The learners' emotional states were aligned with really learning it. They felt energized and happy to be doing this. They were feeling curious about what was unfolding and delighted with the suspense, unknowns and ambiguity. They experienced a felt sense of needing to know this, wanting it for their own reasons and valuing it even before it happened. They were feeling courageous enough to take the risks, make the mistakes and expose themselves to discouraging remarks. They were confident enough to see their learning all the way through to completion. The learners felt they had resolved any of their own anxiety or misgivings before those inner conflicts could undermine really learning it.

The learners' tribes were in favor of this change really happening. Their peers or colleagues were offering encouragement, showing an interest in it and wanting further updates, Their interactions outside the learning experience picture what they went through as valuable, enviable or remarkable. The atmosphere, when the learners were socializing, made it easy to discuss it, relive it and deepen their commitment to it.

The learners' casinos pay out for this kind of gamble sometimes. The reward system of grades, paychecks, bonuses or promotions is geared to recognize when learning it really happens. There may have been objectives, goals or plans to learn it that confirm this as a "job well done". There may have been pressures to comply, fit in and stop deviating which regard this as "measuring up to expectations". There might also have been unwritten rules for joining an elite corps or making the grade of the next higher rank which entitles the learners to special privileges after really learning it.

The learners' experience of the instructional design was empowering and particularly supportive of them. They felt the pacing was in their control or in sync with the rate they could get this clear in their minds. The choices they were offered among viable options and the validation of their intentions -- kept them in the driver's seat as responsible learners. They sensed the process began with their current understanding instead of taking off without them on board. They realized what they were assuming incorrectly by having their own thought processes put to use and challenged by unfamiliar situations. They welcomed the new content as additions and refinements to their competencies, rather than starting over or correcting their lack of understanding.

The learners' actual context was essential to learning this. The learners' imaginations are now picturing the result of really learning it in the situations where they can actually use it. The learners have connected the dots between the challenges they face routinely in their own worlds and this new learning. They get the learning to serve their lives or forget it.

All this implies that the learners we're actively involved in how the experience went down for them. If they sensed the learning was not happening, they would have taken the initiative to make changes. They may have done something:
  • to perk up their brain
  • to recall who they thought they were when they really learned something successfully
  • to resolve inner conflicts to get a good feeling about this,
  • to convince their tribe of the value of learning this,
  • to improve the odds or get some payback for their effort
  • to get more control over their own learning processes
  • to make the connections to how they will use it in their own world
Any of those initiatives are standard fare of a day in the life of a pro-learning ecology.


  1. Nice post, Tom.
    When learning really happens is increasingly not where most of our education/training energy and resources go at present.

    I have a strong interest in helping learning experiences become actionable performance. I would be interested in your thoughts on followthrough, cementing recall of new learning/skills.

  2. Thanks Lars!
    Hopefully the resources will be redeployed as more people become aware of the possibility that learning really happens when the context supports it.

    The Brain Rules book suggests that repetition is crucial to "cementing recall". Those repeat experiences occur naturally when we're doing to do something, because we return to the challenge over and over in order to master it. It makes sense to me that we would have evolved to learn this way because it's a great survival strategy for getting good at useful routines and neglecting those that serve no purpose. When we frame the challenge for educators as "follow through", we've set-up a costly, labor intensive model. Just like factories that cannot follow-up on every consumers' unique use of the manufactured product, educational delivery systems cannot pay sufficient attention to each student after the formal program, to reinforce, refine and reward the "actionable performance". The responsibility for follow-through needs to handed off to the responsible learners. I have many ideas about how to design instruction to that end that I'll write about in some blog posts soon.

  3. Learning is such a slippery thing. Its great to see it pinned down at last.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Berry. I may have pinned down that slippery thing called learning for a moment here, but I'm pretty sure all of us blogging about learning what to keep it slippery. Then everyone of us can say on one occasion or another, "I got it! I know what learning is!" .... before it slips away again :-)