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The 3 Stages of Learning That Help You Learn Effectively

The 3 Stages of Learning That Help You Learn Effectively

We’re learning every day of our life from the moment we are born. Without realizing it, we’ve been employing at least one of the 3 stages of learning to gain knowledge actually: cognitive learning, associative learning or autonomous learning.

Each of these stages of learning is very different from the other. These stages can be taken progressively, where one stage comes before the other, or individually where each is a complete learning methodology on its own. In any situation that involves learning opportunities, a person looking to acquire knowledge makes a subconscious decision to gain it a certain way, based on any one or a combination of the three stages mentioned above.

If you want to learn faster, it is important that you know which stage of learning you’re currently at and what steps to take next to advance to the next stage of learning.

Stage 1: Cognitive Learning

Cognitive learning works towards developing an overall understanding of skills. It engages students in the learning process, getting them to use their brain more effectively to make new connections from knowledge already stored in their mind. It improves comprehension, helps develop problem solving skills and promotes long-term learning.

This can also be considered the first stage of learning where the learner observes and listens and makes connections based on knowledge he has already gained. This knowledge could have been acquired through conscious or subconscious learning.

Knowledge in the cognitive stage can be acquired through any of the following methods:

Implicit Learning

It takes place when the learner is unaware of the fact that they’re actually learning. It does not involve specific instructions, rather, it happens with verbal and visual cues and usually takes place in a social setting.

A child learning to speak is an example of knowledge gained implicitly: in a social setting without being taught by an instructor.

This type of learning is retained well over years and is resistant to psychological changes in people. It is better for skill reproduction and is independent of age and IQ.

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Explicit Learning

It happens when a person actively seeks out opportunities to learn. This may or may not involve a teacher. This also requires verbal and visual cues.

A good example of this type of learning would be learning to ride a bicycle. The person wanting to ride the bicycle may attempt to learn on their own, mimic the actions of another person (visual cues) or may ask for instructions from someone who already knows how to do so (verbal cues).

Explicit learning conditions the brain to solve problems and learn new concepts.

Collaborative Learning

It is the type of learning most commonly used in educational institutes. It involves varying degrees of collaboration between the learner, the instructor and other students.

An instructor provides knowledge and helps students make sense of it. The students are then asked to discuss the newly acquired information, connect it to knowledge gained earlier and use it in coursework.

Collaborative learning increases higher-level thinking, verbal communication and leadership skills in a student while promoting self-esteem, acceptance of differing views and student-teacher and student-peer interactions.

Co-operative Learning

It is structured in a way that students have to interact with each other and the instructor – where instructions are followed and best skills and qualities are observed and learned.

Co-operative learning is best observed in an environment where practical knowledge is also gained. Playing fields and science laboratories are good examples of co-operative learning settings.

This type of cognitive learning helps increase retention power and self-confidence and build relationships. It offers opportunities for social support and helps improve attitude and tolerance towards authority and even those who are different to others.

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Observational Learning

Observational learning is the acquisition of knowledge through observation and imitation of others.

It is an effective learning methodology as it makes learning an enjoyable activity, encourages social interactions, enhances memory and influences mannerisms.

Albert Bandura proved the effectiveness of observational learning with his Bobo Doll experiment where children who saw an adult hitting the doll hit it too. Those children that did not see the Bobo Doll being hit did not hit it either.

This type of learning can be positive, such as learning compassion and sportsmanship or negative such as learning to fear snakes or spiders just because someone around us is afraid of them.

Learn more about observational learning in this article: How to Use Observational Learning to Learn Effectively

Meaningful Learning

Meaningful learning happens when a concept has been understood fully and is being applied in practice. It is a goal-oriented method of acquiring knowledge, and is the opposite of rote learning.

A good example of this style of learning would be a chemistry student who learns in class that mixing certain chemicals will result in an explosive reaction. This knowledge will stop him from mixing those chemicals in the lab.

Meaningful learning is a durable style of learning as it requires linking of new information to previously acquired knowledge. It is constructive and encourages learning through different techniques.

Like cognitive learning, the next stage of learning can also be taken as an independent methodology or as the second step of a three-phase learning system.

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Stage 2: Associative Learning

Associative learning is where the brain is conditioned to learn or modify responses taking into consideration stimuli offered. This type of learning occurs when new and old information can be linked to each other, giving weight to the theory that ideas and experience reinforce each other.

Associative learning emphasizes acquiring knowledge from the environment and reinforces optimal behavior. It conditions the brain to expect consequences and make decisions based on these expected outcomes. Let’s take a look at the different conditioning of associative learning:

Classical Conditioning

It is a form of associative learning where the brain is trained to associate a certain desired consequence to an action.[1]

At school, it could be extra time for games if the students finish assignments in advance, while in an office it could be a cash bonus if employees meet their targets. In a home environment, it could be extra screen time for kids when they finish chores.

Classical conditioning emphasizes learning from our environment and nurtures critical thinking. It can help to modify undesirable characteristics in the learner and can be used to help overcome phobias.

Operant Conditioning

Operant condition is the idea that certain actions will result in reward or punishment. This type of conditioning offers an easy way to learn new lessons.

The mind can be trained to expect a reward for every book finished (homework pass) or punishment for coming late to school (detention).

This article Positive Motivation vs Negative Motivation: Which One is Better explains the concept of associative learning in the light of positive and negative consequences.

Extinctive Conditioning

Extinctive conditioning is when the brain is trained to not expect a previously expected response when certain conditions are not met. A comedian scrapping jokes that don’t elicit laughter anymore is a good example of extinctive conditioning.

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You can use this type of mind conditioning to modify existing behavior which may be undesirable.

Discriminative Conditioning

Discriminative conditioning is when the brain is trained to reliably expect a certain outcome to a stimulus.

An example of this would be training a dog to jump at the command “jump” and not when commanded to “sit”, “stay” or “heel”.

Moving on from associative learning, we come to the third stage – and if going step-by-step the final stage – of learning, this is the one that gives a learner the most freedom.

Stage 3: Autonomous Learning

At this stage of learning, learners gain knowledge through independent efforts and develop an ability to inquire and evaluate away from teachers and peers influence. Teachers or mentors here are not the instructors, but facilitators.[2]

Learners at this stage have enough knowledge and the power to control their learning. They are looking for sources that will help them make decisions based on their own understanding of the matter.

Also, learners are responsible for setting targets and goals, and making sure their understanding is clear in order to achieve the learning targets.

Autonomous learning motivates learners to learn on their own will. They have the freedom to plan, execute their own learning plan and create strategies to achieve their goals. They are aware of their learning style and can self-evaluate.

Bottom Line

Each stage of learning is crucial in its own way. The 3 stages of learning — Cognitive learning, associative learning and autonomous learning are proven successful. If you combine and use them as a progressive way to acquire knowledge and skills, you can become a lifelong learner and always learn at your own pace.

More About Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Avel Chuklanov via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] VeryWellMind: Classical Conditioning Overview
[2] Professor Jack C. Richards: Autonomous Learner

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Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

The Faster You Learn, the Easier You’ll Fall Behind

The Faster You Learn, the Easier You’ll Fall Behind

Garry Kasparov is a chess grandmaster – and also a former world chess champion. Over the last few decades, he’s beaten hundreds of first-class chess players. It’s no surprise then, that many people consider Kasparov to be one of the greatest chess players of all time.

However, in 1997, Kasparov lost a game of chess to a computer. A year earlier, he had played against IBM’s Deep Blue chess computer and defeated it. But the computer was to have its revenge, as just one year later, when the rematch took place, Deep Blue defeated Kasparov.

    Over the next few years, humans and computers traded chess moves and blows. Fast-forward to 2017, and the picture is crystal clear: today’s best chess programs can easily beat the world’s best human chess players.[1]

    As the Kasparov story demonstrates, even the world’s top players – who practiced a lot – can end up losing.

    Now consider your friends, family and colleagues. How many of these people think they’re doing well in what they do? And how many think they are doing better than the average and have stopped looking for ways to improve themselves? The answer is, a lot.

    Why Learning Can Lead to Stagnation

    When people learn well – they pick up knowledge and quickly become skillful. And the smarter the people, the easier they pick up knowledge, and the easier and faster they become very good at something.

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    These types of individuals find learning effortless, and therefore, they pick up knowledge and skills much better than the average person.

    Take a look at the picture below. The tool in their hand represents the skill they have learned, and the cloud is the level they are currently on – in this case ground level.

      When these learners become knowers, they believe that they know what they’ve learned extremely well. This may be the case, but in reality, they’re already better than average. Because of this, they are unlikely to find anyone who can surpass them. It’s at this point that they may think to themselves, “I’m good enough” and “there’s no need for me learn anything more.”

        As I’ll show in the next few paragraphs, people’s egos can stop them from learning and improving themselves.

        For example, let’s take a look at an expert pianist. They can perform proficiently because of their hard work and practice that they’ve put in over the course of many years. To help them, they may have had a tutor who developed their skills and brought out their talent.

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        The consistent tutoring and practicing led them to become an accomplished pianist – one who regularly performs paid concerts in front of decent-sized audiences. However, their success has led them to believe that they don’t need to make any further changes or improvements to their musical skills.

          When experts stop learning – they start to fall behind. This is because others will keep improving, and eventually get ahead of them.

          The world is constantly changing, so sticking to the same way to practice (and failing to improve) will lead to people dropping the ball. A recent study predicted that one in five U.K. employees are under threat of losing their jobs to automation. A person who’s comfortable in their job today, may find themselves replaced by a computer or robot tomorrow. If this prediction comes true, millions of people will soon find themselves out of work.[2] This is a real life example of how people can fall behind when they stop learning and improving themselves.

          Clearly, any experts who stop learning and improving, will be replaced by those who keep learning – whether these are humans or machines.

            When You Think You’ve Learned Enough, You Fall Behind

            The cloud depicted in the visuals isn’t concrete, and it’s prone to fall and disappear any time when you stop paying attention to your own learning and development.

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            Everyone, no matter how good they believe themselves to be at something, should never stop learning. Reaching an ‘acceptable’ performance only means that you’re doing okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing it to the best of your ability or potential.

            As I stated earlier (but well worth repeating again)… When you stop learning, you’re falling behind.

              Push Yourself to Reach New Heights

              To keep ahead of your competitors, you need to keep learning and practicing. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean doing things in the same way. You may need to step outside of your comfort zone in order to improve.

                Do what you can’t

                When you think you’re doing something well enough, find what you can’t do – and then do it! Here are four key things to remember about pushing your boundaries:

                1. If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.
                2. Getting out of your comfort zone means trying to do something that you couldn’t do before.
                3. Sometimes you’ll run into something that stops you in your tracks. Find ways around these hurdles by focusing on improving your skills and knowledge, and then practicing them until you become proficient.
                4. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You may need to try different ways to make things happen.

                Set yourself specific goals as you practice

                People who achieve great things set themselves definite goals. And I highly recommend that you do the same.

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                One great way to do this is to follow the SMART and Stretch goal methods, which will help you set a big goal, while at the same time giving you baby steps on how to reach it. When SMART and Stretch goals are combined, your goal setting will have genuine purpose and power. You’ll be motivated by the giant goal, while having confidence in the small, incremental steps that will lead you there.

                Find out more about goals setting in my other article: How to Get Bigger Things Done in the Coming Year

                Along the way, you need to get feedback to help you improve

                It goes without saying that to make progress, you’ll need feedback to identify exactly where and how you are falling short. This feedback can be from yourself or from outside observers (e.g., your audience, your mentor, your peers).

                Do you know why computers can beat humans at chess after those times they’ve lost against them? The answer is, that people who program the computers have learned through all the steps humans have performed. They also gathered valuable feedback through their computers losing against some competitors. The programmers pick up the clues and change the way the computers perform in their next matches.

                Learning Should Never Come to an End

                When we’re young we naturally crave learning. We constantly seek out new knowledge, skills and experiences. However, as we mature, there’s a tendency for us to stop learning new things.

                If this happens, you can be sure that stagnation is just around the corner. And as nature shows, nothing (even stagnation) stays the same for long. Things are either building up – or breaking down.

                To avoid the latter, you must maintain a positive outlook that embraces big goals and constant learning. By doing these things, you’ll stay fresh, lively and ahead of the pack of hyenas snapping at your heels!

                Reference

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