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Published on December 23, 2019

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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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

One of the biggest realizations I had as a kid is that teaching in school could be hit or miss for students. We all have our own different types of learning styles. Even when I was in study groups, we all had our own ways of uncovering solutions to questions.

It wasn’t only until later in my life did I realize how important it is to know your own learning style. As soon as you know how you learn and the best way to learn, you can better retain information. This information could be crucial to your job, future promotions, and overall excelling in life.

Best of all about this information is that, it’s not hard to figure out what works best for you. There are broad categories of learning styles, so it’s a matter of finding which one we gravitate towards most.

What Are the Types of Learning Styles?

Before we get into the types of learning styles, there’s one thing to know:

We all learn through repetition.

No matter how old you are, studies show that repetition allows us to retain and learn new information.[1] The big question now is what kind of repetition is needed. After all, we all learn and process information differently.

This is where the types of learning styles come in. There are eight in total and there is one or two that we prefer over others. This is important because when reading these learning styles, you’ll feel like you’d prefer a mixture of these styles.

That’s because we do prefer a combination. Though there will be one style that will be more predominate over the others. The key is finding which one it is.

Visual Learning

A visual learner (also known as the spatial learner) excels at deciphering anything visual – typically maps and graphs.

If you are this type of learner, you likely excelled at geometry in math class but struggled with arithmetic and numbers. To this day, you might also struggle with reading and writing to a degree.

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While visual learners are described as “late bloomers,” they are highly imaginative. They also process what they see much faster than what they hear.

Verbal Learning

Verbal learning, on the other hand, is learning through what’s spoken. Verbal learners excel in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Because of that, they are likely the ones to find thrills in tongue twists, word games, and puns.

They also thoroughly enjoy drama, writing, and speech classes. But give them maps, or challenge them to think outside of the box and they’ll struggle a bit.

Logical Learning

Not to be confused with visual learners, these learners are good at math and logic puzzles. Anything involving numbers or other abstract visual information is where they excel.

They can also analyze cause and effect relationships quite well. Part of that is due to their thinking process being linear.

Another big difference is their need to quantify everything. These people love grouping information, creating specific lists, agendas or itineraries.

They also have a love for strategy games and making calculations in their heads.

Auditory Learning

Similar to verbal learning, this type of learning style focuses on sounds on a deeper level. These people think chronologically and excel more in the step-by-step methods. These are likely the people who will watch Youtube videos to learn or do something the most.

These learners also have a great memory of conversations and love debates and discussions. Chances are likely these people excel at anything oral.

Also as the name suggests, these individuals have great musical talents. They can decern notes, instruments, rhythms and tones. That being said, they will have a tough time interpreting body language, expressions and gestures. This also applies to charts, maps and graphs.

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Social Learning

Otherwise known as the interpersonal learner, their skills are really unique. They don’t particularly excel in classrooms but rather through talking to other people.

These are the people who are excited for group conversations or group projects. Mainly because they are gifted with coming up with ideas and discussing them.

They also have a good understanding of people’s emotions, facial expressions, and relationship dynamics. They are also likely the first people to point out the root causes of communication issues.

Intrapersonal Learning

The reverse of interpersonal learning, these people prefer learning alone. These are the people who love self-study and working alone. Typically, intrapersonal learners are deeply in tune with themselves meaning they know who they are, their feelings, and their own capabilities.

This type of learning style means you love learning something on your own and typically every day. You also have innate skills in managing yourself and indulging in self-reflection.

Physical Learning

Also known as kinesthetic learning, these people love doing things with their hands. These are people who loved pottery or shop class. If you’re a physical learner, you’ll find you have a huge preference in using your body in order to learn.

This means not just pottery or shop class you enjoyed. You may also have loved sports or any other art medium like painting or woodwork. Anything that involved you learning through physical manipulation you enjoyed and excelled at.

Though this doesn’t just apply to direct physical activities. A physical learner may also find that they learn well when both reading on any subject and pacing or bouncing your leg at the same time.

Naturalistic Learning

The final learning style is naturalistic. These are people who process information through patterns in nature. They also apply scientific reasoning in order to understand living creatures.

Not many people may be connected to this one out of the types of learning styles primarily because of those facts. Furthermore, those who excel in this learning end up being farmers, naturalists or scientists.

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These are the people who love everything with nature. They appreciate plants, animals, and rural settings deeply compared to others.

How to Know Which One(s) Suit You Better?

So now that you have an idea of all the types of learning styles we have another question:

Which one(s) are best for you?

As a reminder, all of us learn through a combination of these learning styles. This makes pinpointing these styles difficult since our learning is likely a fusion of two or more of those styles.

Fortunately, there are all kinds of methods to narrow down which learner you are. Let’s explore the most popular one: the VARK model.

VARK Model

Developed by Neil Fleming and David Baume, the VARK model is basically a conversation starter for teachers and learners.[2] It takes the eight types of learning styles above and condenses them into four categories:

  • Visual – those who learn from sight.
  • Auditory – those who learn from hearing.
  • Reading/writing – those who learn from reading and writing.
  • Kinesthetic – those who learn from doing and moving.

As you can probably tell, VARK comes from the first letter of each style.

But why use this particular model?

This model was created not only for discussion purposes but for learners to know a few key things — namely understanding how they learn.

Because our school system is focusing on a one-size-fits-all model, there are many of us who struggle learning in school. While we may no longer go to school, these behaviors persisted into our adult lives regardless. While we aren’t learning about algebra or science, we may be learning new things about our job or industry. Knowing how to best retain that information for the future helps in so many ways.

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As such, it can be frustrating when we’re in a classroom setting and aren’t understanding anything. That or maybe we’re listening to a speech or reading a book and have no clue what’s going on.

This is where VARK comes back in. To quote Fleming and Baume:

“VARK above all is designed to be a starting place for a conversation among teachers and learners about learning. It can also be a catalyst for staff development- thinking about strategies for teaching different groups can lead to more, and appropriate, variety of learning and teaching.”

Getting into the specifics, this is what’s known as metacognition.[3] It helps you to understand how you learn and who you are. Think of it as a higher order of thinking that takes control over how you learn. It’s impossible to not use this while learning.

But because of that metacognition, we can pinpoint the different types of learning styles that we use. More importantly, what style we prefer over others.

Ask These Questions

One other method that I’ll mention is the research that’s done at the University of Waterloo.[4] If you don’t want to be using a lot of brainpower to pinpoint, consider this method.

The idea with this method is to answer a few questions. Since our learning is a combination of styles, you’ll find yourself leaning to one side over the other with these questions:

  • The active/reflective scale: How do you prefer to process information?
  • The sensing/intuitive scale: How do you prefer to take in information?
  • The visual/verbal scale: How do you prefer information to be presented?
  • The sequential/global scale: How do you prefer to organize information?

This can narrow down how you learn and provide some other practical tips for enhancing your learning experience.

Final Thoughts

Even though we have a preferred style of learning and knowing what that is is beneficial, learning isn’t about restriction. Our learning style shouldn’t be the sole learning style we rely on all the time.

Our brain is made of various parts and whatever style we learn activates certain parts of the brain. Because of this fact, it would be wise to consider other methods of learning and to give them a try.

Each method I mentioned has its merits and there’s not one dominate or superior method. What method we like is entirely up to our preferences. So be flexible with those preferences and uncover what style works best for you.

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Featured photo credit: Anna Earl via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] BrainScape: Repetition is the mother of all learning
[2] Neil Fleming and David Baume: VARKing Up the Right Tree
[3] ERIC: Metacognition: An Overview
[4] University of Waterloo: Understanding Your Learning Style

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