"Living each life experience with a learning attitude can help us extract the right lessons from that experience."
Kay Peterson and David A. Kolb, through their engaging guide How You Learn is How You Live, invite readers to adopt The Learning Way by embracing a learning attitude towards each experience. Awakening the power of experiential learning by understanding your unique learning style—and how to grow by practicing different styles—is at the heart of what this book teaches. What I also enjoyed about the authors’ approach is the thorough research, including a broader look at how ingrained habits and beliefs restrict learning, and the impact of each individual’s neuronal structure on how we decipher our moments. Fascinating stuff.
In one of the many examples in the book, James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching Thinking by Exploring the Biology of Learning is referenced with a detailed description, including diagrams, about how the learning cycle mirrors the structure of the brain. The authors also quote Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman who talks about our “experiencing self and a remembered thinking self” as a way to understand how our feelings are only momentary, and ultimately that our minds create illusions that impact how we remember experiences. I was riveted by all the research, descriptions, stories, and case studies detailing how learning physically alters the brain.
In fact, it is critical that we open ourselves up to different experiences on a regular basis, because without change we cannot continue to learn. The bottom line: New experiences are transformative. We will recombine and reiterate what we already think we know unless we remain curious. Kolb, who created the Experiential Learning Theory, and Peterson, who is managing director at the Institute for Experiential Learning, have solid credentials and have done the research. This guide is meant to shed a light on our ingrained emotional beliefs and encourage a learning journey, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and happier life.
So, how can you embrace The Learning Way?
The Experiential Learning Cycle
"The lessons we learn from our past experiences are not fixed rules for living but must be open to revision."
“Adopt a learning attitude and apply the experiential learning cycle to the problem.”
If we slow down our interactions, and create space for processing new knowledge, our ability to retain information expands. Peterson and Kolb call this the experiential learning cycle:
As an example, the authors talk about how to remember names when meeting new people. Recalling a person’s name is something many people find challenging. If we attend to the “experience” of the name and the person, “reflect” on what the name might mean to us, “think” about other people with the same name to prompt memory signals, and then “act” by using the person’s name many times in the conversation, we now have a mindful approach to remembering names.
How can you employ the learning cycle to further expand your learning style?
Full Cycle Learners
"What we think we know can be the greatest barrier to our learning."
“Full-cycle learners touch all the bases—experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting—in an ongoing process that adapts to what is being learned and in what environment,” write Peterson and Kolb.
Experiential learning relies on the development of the brain—and in particular, engaging different parts of the brain in ways that build on each individual’s neuronal structure. Learning physically alters the brain and this is why new experiences are so critical to development.
The authors invite readers to practice the learning cycle to help uncover style preferences:
- Create a learning space
- Focus on an immediate experience
- Move to reflection
- Conceptualize the experience
- Move to action
- The cycle begins again
By understanding our individual, unique approach to learning we can see which part of the process we prefer, which we should avoid, and how we can work towards strengthening it.
How can you build on your learning preference and enhance other styles of learning?
The Nine Learning Styles
"Through our lifetime, our one hundred billion neurons will be programmed by countless trips through the learning cycle."
Most people have a strong preference for one learning style and use backup styles in their repertoire. They also find that they avoid or underutilize certain styles. The nine learning styles are:
A key point that Peterson and Kolb are relaying is the idea that learning flexibility will enrich our lives. We become stuck in the familiar. We resist any new approach that will take us out of our comfort zone or feeling of stability. The authors offer compelling stories about how people mindfully recognize their key learning style and build elasticity through awareness.
While reading the book, I was struck by the deep need to engage in new experiences as a way to enjoy a fulfilling life. I thought about how easy it is to relax into a routine—sometimes for years. As a writer and performer, I am comfortable with words and language or speaking and improvising. I recall taking a geology course at university some years back and how challenging the math and science aspects were for me to grasp. Yet, by the end of the course I did feel that I had grown and expanded—even adding further complexity to my strengths. Lifelong learning is critical to growth and if you embody the phrase “I am a learner” you will see that it is always true.
As Mark Twain advised, “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it—and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”
You can take the Kolb Learning Style Inventory 4.0 here.
In the comments below, let us know how you plan to transform your life through The Learning Way.