June 22, 2015
Learning #3: How Do You Know that You Have Learned?
When I went to the “University of the Public Library” (see the last Meta Reflection, #26) and got my education in therapy (not my schooling, that came later), even before my training in NLP, I knew that the proof of the learning would be in the skills of competency. I knew that the question would then be: “Could I translate what I was learning conceptually into good practice so that I could facilitate the healing, empowerment, and mindfulness of clients?” If I could not, had I really learned what I thought I was learning? If I could, then what I was discovering and learning in concept and principle was somehow becoming effective practice. Even today these are key questions about learning:
∙ How do you know if you have learned something?
∙ How can we measure “learning?”
Nearly every “school” deceives you and me in answering these questions. Most schools use grades as their way to measure learning. “If you make the grades, then presto, you must have learned!” Of course, today we know that a person can learn “how to take a test,” and how to develop testing competency, without actually being able to demonstrate what they supposedly learned. Others use degrees, certificates, diplomas, etc. as measurements of learning. They are also wrong. Degrees and certificates do not measure “learning,” they measure test-taking, jumping through hoops, meeting expectations of teachers, getting along with others, playing a political game, etc.
So what is the true measurement of learning? Doing. If you cannot do, if you cannot perform the practices of a learning, if you cannot turn the concept into a competent performance— then you have not truly learned. Doing demonstrates the practicality and reality of learning. That’s why in Neuro-Semantics we constantly talk about the Knowing—Doing gap and how to close that gap so that what you know you can do. This is the meaning of the Meaning—Performance axes that then generates the Self-Actualization Quadrants.
This was the test I began using when I started by third career of modeling human experiences of excellence. I began with Resilience. That was my first modeling project. I studied it for almost three years. But studying it, researching it, modeling it would have been insufficient. The test of that learning— “Would I be resilient in the face of life’s set-backs and knock-downs?” “Could I, or would I, bounce back after a set-back with resilience—with hope, determination, inspiration, etc.?” The test would be in the doing.
Similarly, I used the same criterion of learning for the other studies—selling, leadership, negotiation, coaching, business, self-actualizing, etc. This reveals that all true learning is experiential in nature. It begins with what you can visualize, or say, or imagine, but it always leads to a kinesthetic engagement and practice. It always involves embodying the learning in practice, in getting high quality feedback from people who can make quality distinctions, and a deliberate practice of those details that make a difference.
So, how do you know if you have learned? Your behavior will be different, that’s how! Your actions are more refined, more developed, more thorough, more expansive, more flexible, etc. If you have truly learned—you can now demonstrate your learning. If you have thoroughly learned, you can demonstrate it at anytime and any place. You are now the master of that competence. You not only can talk about it, you can show it in your actions. You are now able-to-respond appropriately and adequately. And that means you are a responsible learner.
With this criteria, competency measures true learning. If you cannot do, you have only intellectually comprehended the subject, you have not learned it in your body. Performance is the true test. For this reason we set out in Neuro-Semantics to establish benchmarks for competencies in all of the things that we “teach” and that we “learn.” The behavioral benchmarks measures both the quantity and the quality of the learning performance. The benchmark also tells a person where he is on the scale of that performance and what his next steps are.
“Learning” without the ability to do, to take effective actions, and to put into practice actually perpetuates one of the central problems with this kind of insufficient learning. It widens the Knowing—Doing gap. You are filling your head with more intellectual understanding without activating your body to be able to do the actions of that understanding. In the long run, this will undermine your competence, and then your confidence, and then your enjoyment.
If performance is the ultimate criterion of learning, then learning is inherently and inevitably experiential and why we emphasize hands-on learning via trainings and coaching. Then you can give it a go, test it out, and see how much you can do at any given point. To the unleashing of your highest and best learnings!
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.