I’ve been thinking a lot about learning, and have been trying to examine and understand more about the way that I learn. For me, there are three levels or stages of learning:
- Absorb (often through reading, watching, or listening)
- Experience (first hand exposure through active participation or passive observation)
- Teach (possibly through mentoring, speaking, or writing)
In my experience, absorbing is the most shallow level of learning. It can be enriched through direct experience, then solidified by teaching and passing on knowledge to others. However, it isn’t always as simple or straightforward as going from step one, to two, to three. I can recall several occasions when I’ve tried to learn something, but struggled to gain a strong enough understanding of it to believe that I could pass on any valuable knowledge about it to someone else. When I tried to break down how I handle these situations, I realised that I tend to approach the learning in cycles.
When I first start learning something from scratch, I often have little or no context to apply the information to, so there’s only so much that I can process in a useful way. Even if I can tell that what I’m reading or watching is valuable, there’s only so much that I can do with it until I gain some of my own experiences. It’s usually not that the material is aimed at the wrong level, it’s just that I can’t relate to it. When I find (or put) myself in a situation relevant to what I’m trying to learn, I can match what I experience with what I’ve absorbed, and use that to guide my behaviours and actions. That probably sounds pretty standard so far, but here’s where the rabbit poop comes in.
Warning: If you’re reading this with a bowl of Coco Pops in front you and don’t already know where this is going, you might want to bookmark this post and come back to it later…
Rabbits eat their own poop to further extract the nutrients from the food that weren’t absorbed the first time it was eaten. I take a similar approach to my learning, in that once I’ve absorbed information and experienced something for the first time after the learning cycle has started, I won’t always automatically move to the final stage. Instead, I’ll often revisit material that I’ve already learned from, this time with the context of the new experiences I’ve gained. I guess you could consider the experiences as a form of digestion, meaning that I’m more easily able to gain more goodness from my pre-digested resources the second, third, and maybe even fourth time that I try to process them. It’s kind of like when you watch a film over and over again. The more times you watch it, the more you notice subtle details and connections that you didn’t spot before.
So, in what I’ll now call the “rabbit poop approach” to learning, the stages of learning that I mentioned earlier look more like this:
- Absorb with new context
- Experience with new learnings
- Repeat 3 and 4 as required
Although I didn’t consciously come up with this approach, I’ve found it really useful in learning about more difficult, or harder to digest topics and concepts, as opposed to the more bite-sized ones. (Okay, no more puns.)
When I tried to visualise the rabbit poop approach to learning, it reminded me of the sprint cycle diagrams that you might have seen before.
Here’s what the rabbit poop approach to learning looks like:
Of course, learning is continuous, and there are various other loops that you could add to the diagram, but the loop between absorbing and experiencing is the most notable and helpful one for me at the moment.
What other learning approaches have you tried, or spotted in your own behaviours? Do you have any fun names for them? Let me know in the comments.