How You Learn is How You Live

Summary Written by Tracy Shea-Porter
"Living each life experience with a learning attitude can help us extract the right lessons from that experience."

- How You Learn is How You Live, page 2

The Big Idea

The Experiential Learning Cycle

"The lessons we learn from our past experiences are not fixed rules for living but must be open to revision."- How You Learn is How You Live, page 3

“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:

  • Experience
  • Reflect
  • Think
  • Act

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?

Insight #1

Full Cycle Learners

"What we think we know can be the greatest barrier to our learning."- How You Learn is How You Live, page 19

“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:

  1. Create a learning space
  2. Focus on an immediate experience
  3. Move to reflection
  4. Conceptualize the experience
  5. Move to action
  6. 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?

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Insight #2

The Nine Learning Styles

"Through our lifetime, our one hundred billion neurons will be programmed by countless trips through the learning cycle."- How You Learn is How You Live, page 22

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:

  1. Experiencing
  2. Imagining
  3. Reflecting
  4. Analyzing
  5. Thinking
  6. Deciding
  7. Acting
  8. Initiating
  9. Balancing

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.”

Read the book

Get How You Learn is How You Live on Amazon.

David A. Kolb

David Kolb is the Chairman of Experience Based Learning Systems (EBLS), an organization that he founded in 1980 to advance research and practice on experiential learning. He received his BA in psychology, philosophy and religion at Knox College and his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Harvard University. He was a professor of organizational behavior and management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University where he is currently Emeritus Professor of Organizational Behavior.

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