Four Key Ingredients for Learning

What is needed to keep or
kick-start learning?

Every time we choose comfort over learning we ossify. It’s said that “in a beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in an expert’s there are few.” (Shunryu Suzuki) Yet, the longer we stay in a role, the more uncomfortable it may feel to “be a beginner.” If you’ve been in your job for 5 years, you have roughly 1,300 repetitions or 10,000 comfortable hours at your job. How much of a “beginner” could you possibly be?

This is why we use experiential learning activities: to energize your inner-learner and catalyze a movement toward becoming a learning organization. What is needed (other than a beginner’s mind) to keep or kick-start learning? Here’s a clue from a recent article featured in The Power of Learning. Author Markham Heid offers four essential ingredients for learning with which we can reflect on our own readiness to embark on a learning journey:
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Motivation refers to the willingness to learn. This involves (for the facilitator, creating,… for the learner, recognizing) a “’discrepancy’- a disconnect between knowledge the brain currently has, and the knowledge it wants.” Such a discrepancy can stem from a need to close an existing gap, or a desire to achieve new heights. Either way, the desire to resolve that discrepancy (a.k.a. learn) must be present. How willing are we, and how well do we recognize (or create!) our own “discrepancies?” How can we get better at that?


Even if we’re highly motivated, that in-itself is not enough. The next key ingredient is Opportunity. There’s a correlation between motivation and opportunity, in that the highly motivated will create their own opportunities. The less motivation evident in a person, the more accessible, frictionless, and apparent the opportunities to learn must be. Which is good news! Because lowering the barrier to entry on learning experiences is within everyone’s control when we treat every problem as a vehicle for learning. What’s the barrier to entry at your organization?

Sustained Attention

Let’s say we’ve struck a healthy balance between motivation and opportunity. We still can’t bake the proverbial cake without the next challenging ingredient: giving uncomfortable learning our Sustained Attention. It’s easy to engage with what we know, but “the ability to learn new things … requires stretching our brain past the point of what’s familiar or comfortable. And that stretch requires unbroken concentration.” We’re all called to enact a sense of agency to create the conditions to move ourselves through thresholds; to learn. What will you do differently today to make learning a priority? Does your organization’s “training” sessions aim to integrate work and learning, using the advantage of important problems in the work as vehicles for learning?

Curiosity and diligence
There is yet one more thing to consider that will keep us going when the going gets tough (and it will, it’s new terrain, right?). The last key ingredient Heid offers is to cultivate “habits of mind” like Curiosity and Diligence. Nothing fends off frustration like curiosity. When we approach our discrepancies with dispassion and a scientific (curious) mindset, we find a well-spring of resilience. “Stick-to-it-ive-ness,” as my Grandmother called it, pays compounding dividends when we realize that the lessons we need to learn (in work & in life) will present themselves over and over until we find at last, that “the only way out is through.”

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