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Last Updated on January 27, 2021

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 lives from the moment we are born. Without realizing it, we’ve been employing at least one of the three stages of learning to gain knowledge and grow as individuals: 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 stages 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.[1]

Elements of Cognitive Learning graphic

    This can also be considered the first stage of learning where the learner observes and listens and makes connections based on knowledge s/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

    Implicit learning takes place when the learner is unaware of the fact that they’re actually learning. It does not involve specific instructions, but 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: they learn in a social setting without being taught by an instructor.

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

    Explicit Learning

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

    A good example of this type of learning would be learning to ride a bike. The person wanting to ride the bike 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

    Collaborative learning 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.

    Cooperative Learning

    In the stages of learning, cooperative learning 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.

    Cooperative learning is best observed in an environment where practical knowledge is also gained. Playing fields and science laboratories are good examples of cooperative learning settings.

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    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.

    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[2]. 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 it 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.

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    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.

    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

    In the stages of learning, this is a form of associative learning where the brain is trained to associate a certain desired consequence to an action.[3]

    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 explains the concept of associative learning in the light of positive and negative consequences.

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    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.

    You can use this type of mind conditioning to modify existing behavior that 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 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.[4]

    Learners at this final 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 through 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.

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    The 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 to be 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] Grade Power Learning: The Benefits of Cognitive Learning
    [2] Simple Psychology: Bobo Doll Experiment
    [3] VeryWellMind: Classical Conditioning Overview
    [4] Professor Jack C. Richards: Autonomous Learner

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    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

    How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

    Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

    This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

    As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

    But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

    How Serious Is Information Overload?

    The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

    This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

    When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

    We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

    No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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    The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

    That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

    Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

    Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

    But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

    Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

    Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

    When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

    Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

    The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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    You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

    How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

    So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

    1. Set Your Goals

    If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

    Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

    Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

    Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

    2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

    Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

    First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

    If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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    • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
    • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
    • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

    If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

    (You’ll forget about it anyway.) And that’s basically it.

    Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

    You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

    Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

    3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

    There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

    Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

    Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

    Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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    4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

    Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

    This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

    Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

    The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Summing It Up

    As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

    I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

    I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

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    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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