How many ways can we learn?

Do you think of yourself as a learner? I often hear people say something like “I don’t get around to doing much learning”, and generally they are referring to some sort of formal study, course or teaching. In our schools, learning is very much defined as what happens in the classroom or what is related to a particular subject.

But learning is so much wider than that. So, let’s redefine it...

Redefining learning

The Oxford dictionary defines learning as “the acquiring of knowledge or skills through study, experience or being taught.” Straight away we can see there are three different approaches laid out here – us doing some study, us finding a teacher, or learning by experience. And this third one – learning by experience – is probably the one that many of us forget about when we say “I haven’t done any learning for ages".

The fact is, most of us are learning something new, most of the time. Perhaps it’s not always something we set out to learn, but something that comes into our environment and we have to learn it (how to do something new on the computer, for example). And in this experience mode, there are all sorts of different ways that we can learn.

Noticing our approach to learning

It is helpful to understand what our favoured processes are for learning. I know that my preference is to be thorough and incremental. For example, if I am studying a language I’ll always want to start at the beginning, take things in sequence, do all the activities in any resource I am using, and go quite slowly.

My son, by contrast, will go quite quickly, will move from resource to resource, will throw himself into advanced activities and then seek to fill the gaps of things he doesn’t know. Two very distinct methods – both of which are right and appropriate. So, ask yourself – what is your preferred approach to learning?

List of ways

Over the last year I have gathered a list of different ways that I and people around me have been learning new things. It is below – but perhaps before you read it, why don’t you write your own list. Then look at ours and see the similarities and differences.

  • reading
  • YouTube videos
  • trial and error                                                  
  • blogs
  • watching expert              
  • asking for feedback                      
  • self-reflection on my activities                  
  • webinars
  • competitions                    
  • games                                                  
  • study groups                                                    
  • being coached
  • being mentored             
  • participating in competitions    
  • teaching newly learnt information          
  • volunteering
  • training courses

Quite a long list, isn’t it? And if we ask 20 people, we’ll get 20 times the amount of items. It shows that there are more ways to learn than just going on a course or reading a book.

Two people studying

How this relates to coaching

If you have had experience of being coached by a good coach, you’ll know that our job isn’t to teach you, but to help you raise awareness of something important for you. Whereas a mentor will share a nugget of wisdom or a useful resource, a coach will hold back, provide space and let you do the thinking.

So, no new information is being introduced into the coaching session by the coach. And yet… coaching is still a powerful learning experience. The acts of dialogue, self-reflection and raising awareness are all important learning tools. So, I consider coaching as absolutely a part of our learning toolkit.

Final thoughts

There is such a wide range of attitudes towards learning. Some people are lifelong learners, constantly throwing themselves into new learning environments. Others have a negative attitude towards learning – a hangover from negative school experiences. But actually, most of us are doing new learning, almost all of the time, just in order to navigate the day. Think of all the things you can do now that you couldn’t do 10 years ago, just because of a change in environment, society, technology. So, let’s all think of ourselves as learners, and understand well how we enjoy learning best.

Happy learning!

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Written by Charlie Warshawski - Career and Executive Coach (ICF, ILM)

Charlie Warshawski is a leadership coach and coach trainer. In his coaching, he works 1:1 with leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs, supporting them on topics that are both professional and personal – according to their needs.He also runs an accredited coach training organisation, Love Your Coaching, offering coaching qualifications… Read more

Written by Charlie Warshawski - Career and Executive Coach (ICF, ILM)

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