‘Learn to learn’, that was the name of a subject that was in my schedule when I went to school. It’s only now that I am a bit older (and maybe a little bit more mature) that I see the value of learning. But my interpretation of learning can’t be further away from the ‘learning instructions’ I received at school.

What is learning?

Ask this question to anyone you can get a hold of and you will get a whole range of (personal) perspectives on how they have experienced learning. Some will relive traumatic experiences and others will be delighted when talking about their studies. So before going further into the ins and outs, I want to make clear what learning really is about in the context of Extra Paar Handen.

Let me start right of the bat with the following: learning in the context of this website is NOT memorizing some information, repeating something over and over again until it drives you crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I really think it’s impressive that someone can recite over 300 numbers after the coma for the number pi. It is just not something I would like to do or consider valuable in the sense of learning. 3,14 will get me where I want to be.

In order to answer what learning is, I have to take a closer look. What does learning really do? Does it change me, does it affect me in some way? Let’s consider the following story. When I was younger, I was told either to do something or not to do something because it would result into a certain (un)pleasant experience. A well known example of this is the hot stove. ‘Don’t touch it or you will burn yourself’. Even though children have been warned a gazillion times, they still need to touch it and experience the consequence(s). Only after the consequences have been experienced, the lesson is really learned.

So learning is actually not only knowing something, but also knowing the experience involved that comes together with that knowledge. You will either do something more (positive experience) or you will avoid doing something (negative experience) in the future. This is how I would like to express and set the definition of learning in the context meant by Extra Paar Handen. Learning is experiencing the outcome of one or more actions based upon information and influencing future related behavior to this.

Now we are clear on the terms of what learning is, we can have a look at the next question that pops up.

Why should you learn?

Let’s go back to the example of the hot stove. Image you have experienced the consequences of touching the hot stove but you don’t have the capacity to learn. This will mean that next time you see a stove, there won’t be any alarm bells ringing to warn you that the stove might be hot, facing the threat of getting burned and experiencing some heavy pain again. Learning protects us from painful situations.

Learning can also do the exact same opposite for us and make us execute certain actions in order to experience pleasure.

Does that mean that the point or purpose of learning is to avoid pain and to chase pleasure? No, that is actually not what I am trying to say here, even though you might have a point. Learning however uses this utterly simple mechanism to make sure you can survive. Especially in the earlier days of mankind this was a very welcome mechanism.
But the point of learning is more profound than this. Learning allows you to modify your behavior so that you can thrive in your own environment and vice versa, meaning that your environment can thrive because of your being and doing. And that is actually how a business functions (see also The Universal Business Model for more information on this).

Learning allows you to change patterns so that different actions can lead to desired results and experiences. In terms of business it means that a business can learn to take the action that will most likely offer the best results.

The next question is off course the million dollar question:

How do you learn?

This question made me think of another important question first. Is learning something universal or is it a personal matter? Is learning different from one person to another? In a sense it will always be personal, as you are the one that is learning. But it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some kind of universal way in how learning is achieved.

I talked about the hot stove before, by which you know already that telling something doesn’t do much for learning. The reason here is that simply sharing information with one another doesn’t really tell us something about the truth of that information.

Experiencing is key to learn. But it’s impossible to experience every piece of information that is out there. How do you still learn without experiencing something? This is where the mind comes in! As a human being, you are most likely blessed with a wide imagination. But imagination allows you to live or to experience some consequences without actually experiencing them in real life. This also explains why children need to touch the stove before learning. In their young lives, children most likely do not know what ‘burning’ really is. Once the word ‘burn’ has some true meaning (connected with pain or pleasure), the imagination will help future leaning processes where ever the possibility of burning pops up. No need to really feel it anymore.

Conclusion

The best way to learn is to experience. The more you learn, the more you will also expand your capacity to learn by imagination. Reading books, enrolling in courses, asking for advice can be very helpful, but only in those cases where you can really transform words and messages into well known actions with consequences that can be experienced as true (or false).

As for now, I hope this might give you a god insight in what learning is, why it’s wise to always keep learning and how learning is achieved most effectively. I will write an article about the process of learning, looking behind the scenes of that process to get a better insight of how some information becomes wisdom.