How to Learn

Dr. David Kalb, author of the Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) theorizes that in order to learn we each pick a comfortable place on two intersecting continua, the perception continuum somewhere between conceptual thinking and pure pragmatic experience and the processing continuum, between watching and reflection and experimentation and testing. The resulting learning styles model looks like this:

There are

  • Diverging learners who like to work in groups and brainstorm,
  • Assimilating learners who like books and lectures,
  • Converging learners who would be more comfortable in applied disciplines, and
  • Accommodating learners who rely on other people to learn and experiment a lot.

I remember being intrigued by the discussion when I took the LSI. (I think I had a weak primary preference for the converging style, but sitting more in the middle.) Like a lot of self-report instruments, the discussion and comparisons with others you interact with are more educational than the instrument output itself. It is worth thinking about how you learn as well as the why the what and the how much.

Why am I writing about how to learn now?

Part of the answer is that the act of writing solidifies my own learning, sometimes it’s what I wish I had known at age 15, 25, and/or 35.

Part of the answer is that just as my work required learning, I believe others need to learn, e.g., how to innovate integrate and improve. Finally a large part of the answer is that our world is changing so very rapidly – technologically, politically, economically, sociologically, etc. Our only choice is to learn or get left hopelessly behind.

I’m a better learner than I used to be. Not surprisingly, I got better at learning in college (at least, in my major) and in graduate school. That was because I wanted to learn. But I am still a late adopter, the almost last one on my block to try the latest techno-geegaw.

I’ve come to the conclusion that even in retirement, I want to learn about many different things and to pass that joy on. I think that is healthy for me, for my children and grandchildren, and for my readers.

Now if I could only get over this problem with authority.


Alan Culler
Alan Culler
Alan Cay Culler is a writer of stories and songs, his fourth career (aspiring actor, speakers agent, change consultant, storyteller.) He retired after thirty-seven years as a leadership and change consultant. Alan was an executive coach, a leadership team facilitator, trainer, and project manager for innovation and improvement initiatives. Alan’s point of view: "Business is all about people, customers, staff, suppliers, and the community - pay disciplined attention to these people and rewards follow; ignore them and success will not last." Alan is “a seeker of wisdom from unusual places.” He is currently completing three books: Wisdom from Unusual Places, Is Consulting Wisdom an Oxymoron?, and Change Leader? Who me?. Alan earned a BA in Theatre from Centre College, an MBA from the London Business School, and a post-graduate certificate in Organization Development from Columbia University. Alan also builds cigar box guitars and wood sculptures, hikes, travels with his wife Billie, and gets as much grandchildren playtime as he can.

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  1. There is no doubt that the mind needs to keep in training. And, therefore, we must continue to train the mind by learning new things, with curiosity and passion.
    Lifelong learning allows, among other things, to respond effectively and effectively to the new needs, changes and challenges that inevitably arise in the course of personal and working life.
    Curiosity, of course, but also a constant need for updating made indispensable by the dynamism and versatility of the modern world of work, and more.
    Studying and dedicating energy to updating, with ever shorter intervals and ever more ambitious goals is certainly fascinating and stimulating but can prove to be very tiring, especially as adults and, for this purpose, it is necessary to ensure:
    motivation to learn
    a training modeled on the needs of the subject;
    ductile and flexible learning tools.
    In other words, it is essential to perceive the usefulness of what is learned in a concrete and immediately applicable way in order not to lose grit and motivation.

    • Thanks for the recommendation of the Epstein book, Charlotte. As a generalist who finally found the benefit of mile wide inch deep, I’m looking forward to reading it.And thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Great article on learning. I think that’s why alot of people do much better in college than high-school because it’s a choice to want to learn. In high-school I believe you learn more when it tends to be fun or of interest. I think feedback is healthy as long as you state some things that are going right as well as what you may need to learn. Just my thoughts. Great article.

    • Thanks for reading this long article, Eva Marie, and for your insightful comments.
      I think that I enjoyed a few things in high school, a few more in college -in my major -and more in grad school.

      On feedback – BF Skinner did some research that showed that it took ten pieces of positive feedback for us to remember any positives compared to one negative. If we knew there was so much power in corrective feedback -we might think more carefully about it.
      Thanks again

  3. Alan, your great post reminds me of an earlier post by you in which you stated that performance is linked to ability and desirability.
    So is the performance of students they need to have the desirability to learn. This you stated clearly in this post “I came to the conclusion that it is impossible to teach anybody anything. We can only provide opportunities to learn. Learning, at least for adults, is a choice.”
    When desirability is their it becomes far easier for students to enhance their anilities and accept feedback ““Feedback is information about performance that leads to action to change or maintain performance.”
    Feedback is a signal that we need to learn something.”