Flexible Focus #59: The 8 Frames of Life: Learning

by William Reed on June 30, 2011

Learning is for Life

In the Mandala Chart, the 7th Frame of Life is Learning. The problem that has plagued both students and educators from the beginning of time is that learning is hard to come by. It doesn’t seem to stick very well. Perhaps this is because learning is often imposed on us more or less by force. The lucky ones discover that learning is not for school; learning is for life.

Learning by doing is the shortest route to retention. Once you learn to ride a bicycle, you will still be able to do it even ten years later without any practice. However, it is likely that you have forgotten most of what you learned for tests in school, often within hours of taking the test! The reason for the difference is contained in proverbial Chinese wisdom,

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell gives numerous examples of what he calls the 10,000-Hour Rule, for which he claims that the key to success in any field is largely a matter of extensive deliberate practice. It certainly makes sense in fields like music or the martial arts, but turns out to be true in just about anything we call talent. Even those gifted with a natural genius often turn out to have been at it in one form or another since they were small children.

Clearly though, it is not just a matter of clocking in 10,000 hours, or we would all be geniuses in our field after just 5 years of work experience. It isn’t about hard work, which is another word for hard won experience. It is the quality of experience and engagement that makes the magic happen.

You have already experienced mastery in speaking your mother tongue, for which 10,000 hours is the equivalent of deep engagement for 10 hours a day by the age of 3. Communication is central to most of our needs and wants, so we master it quickly to survive. And yet a lifetime is not enough to really master the art of communication.

The best way to increase your learning is to increase your engagement, and for this it is helpful to have a framework to understand the levels of engagement. As shown in the illustration, engagement occurs on the horizontal axis of depth, as well as on the vertical axis of involvement.

The deepest learning comes in performance as a player, where you fully physically engage. If you only engage mentally, that is as a spectator, you may enjoy and you may learn, but it will be passive and less likely to stick. Learning by doing starts by engaging the body in practice, and ultimately leads to mastery through performance.

The two axes meet with Art, which can also be understood as technique, or the knack of doing something well. This is the sweet spot in learning, where Mind and Body are joined.

Accelerated Learning

Much of what has been written about accelerated learning only brushes the surface of this process. While it is true that people retain more when they use imagery and visual thinking, this is only the beginning of engagement, and only one of the senses. Learning increases exponentially when you engage deeply, which is why it is easier to learn a foreign language if you live and work in a country where that language is spoken.

What if you do not have the luxury or option to engage in full immersion by moving to a foreign country? Can you still accelerate your learning of a foreign language through deeper engagement?

You could start by making a Wish List on what you want to do in speaking a foreign language. This will help you become very clear on why you want to speak that language, so that you can begin to think about how you will achieve it. If your wishes are vague, you are unlikely to take any action steps toward your goal, and the result is that you will learn little or nothing.

You don’t need to jump right into the deepest level of performance. Instead look for ways to increase your level of engagement in each of the quadrants, always mindful of what Art or technique can help you get more actively engaged.

You could start by enjoying the food and cultural events related to the language, and available where you live. If you can’t attend language classes, there are more options online and through Smart Phone Apps, than you could find excuses for not doing.

Deep learning occurs when you engage muscle memory, and the only way to do that is to practice. Of course, you will get better results if you engage in high quality practice, with good models and good coaching. The final hurdle is that the only way to get better at performance is by doing it. So practice as if you are performing, and perform as you practice.

You can also shorten your route to engagement by following one who has already mastered it at a high level. Learn from a master linguist such as Michel Thomas, whose client list is a gallery of celebrities, diplomats, and executives, all of who needed to perform at a high level. The Michel Thomas Method has been captured on CDs for many of the world’s languages, and it takes you right into the highest level of performance and engagement from the first hour, using no text book, no memorizing, no note taking. Just stimulating guided engagement with the language with the master himself.

If you search, you can find masters of their craft in almost any field imaginable. Use the Mandala Chart to organize your strategy, and you will fluent in that craft in no time, and more passionate about learning that you could have imagined.

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