Today, we take a quick look at the psychological prerequisites to learning. This is summed up in the learning success pyramid, where we find that confidence (I can do this) and self-management (I will make a plan for how to do this) are paramount to effective learning. We could even go as far as to say that they are prerequisites to learning; how are you going to learn to speak Norwegian if you can’t create a coherent plan for learning and also believe that it is within your abilities to do so?
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The Learning Success Pyramid
Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden was also an astute personal philosopher who developed “the pyramid of success.” He intended it as a diagram to guide students through 15 different “blocks” on the course to success in their personal and practical ventures.
Wooden’s model has been appropriated by several others who have sought to provide roadmaps for success or accomplishment, including educator Susan Kruger. She developed the learning success pyramid, which identifies the necessary elements one must bring to ensure accomplishment in learning throughout their life. Thoughtfully, Kruger kept her number of blocks to three, down from Wooden’s 15:
• confidence • self-management • learning
At the base of Kruger’s pyramid is the self-conviction that we can learn. There’s no way around this prerequisite, and brain chemistry has something to do with it.
If one is feeling hurt or mistrusted, or if they’re dealing with depression, stress, difficult personal issues, or fear, they don’t have any resources left to help them learn. We simply have no mental resources left to actually learn, because we are left dealing with the hamster wheel of anxiety and stress. Taken to the extreme, this can shift your brain into fight-or-flight mode. Just imagine being incredibly frightened by public speaking to the point that you can’t function. That’s why confidence in learning is important.
If you’re running low in this area, be kind to yourself and take steps to affirm your learning abilities. You’ve learned everything in your life thus far from scratch. You may feel ignorant or that you’re not good enough—and that might be true, but it’s only a temporary condition.
There’s not a single subject you can’t understand with perseverance and the occasional stretch of hard work. Resolve yourself to not giving up. Make plans for how you will learn. Be forgiving of yourself if you need to take a lot of time and mark your progress as you go along.
If there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and you don’t think you can follow the rainbow, it starts to feel pointless. But if you believe that you can, this belief can carry you through demotivating times. The confidence aspect of learning is what makes it possible that you will even keep reading this book.
The next tier in the learning success pyramid is organizing one’s time, resources, tools, and communication to ensure effective learning. And once again, this process is dictated by how our brain handles incoming information.
After our emotional centers are done processing new info, the next brain part to receive the data is the front brain, or the prefrontal cortex. This is a bit like our own personal assistant: it handles motor function, memory, language, problem-solving, impulse regulation, social behavior, and a bunch of other cognitive skills. When the front brain is exhausted or depleted, we experience a weariness that prevents us from getting anything done.
This is known as ego depletion (this has been recently disproven to some degree, but it is fairly undeniable that the more you have on your plate, the more tired you will grow and the less attention and effort you will put into matters in front of you).
The best way to combat this “brain drain” is by working on self-management skills, particularly organization. This simply means taking a lot of time ahead of any task to set up systems, routines, and actions that will make the task easier to execute on an ongoing basis. Preparation is often the critical difference between success and failure, so it’s vital not to rush through it. This is a skill that may have lain dormant since traditional education was all about imposing a rigorous schedule. But since we must become student and teacher simultaneously, we cannot afford to neglect this.
This means putting a framework in place at the beginning that details how you’re going to execute. If you’re teaching yourself a foreign language, you’d want to make a list of books and online audio resources you’ll be using. You might want to make a list of how you’ll practice and test yourself—maybe with an online sound recorder or a smartphone. And at the end of the course, maybe you’ll translate a hefty amount of English text into the language you’re learning.
This step might seem a little laborious, especially when you just want to jump into the material. But it will save a huge amount of time down the road and help you learn infinitely more. Regulating yourself into learning better is important because once you have led the horse to water (once you have found the resources), the horse must drink the water itself (you must do it yourself).
Well, here you are. This is the third and final step to the learning process: the actual learning. With your confidence and self-management levels up to par, you’re all set up to learn.
The thing is, learning itself is not a difficult task. But most people make the mistake of believing that this third stage is where they should begin, rather than addressing their confidence and self-regulation issues. They try to tackle learning Russian or French but don’t believe they can do it and don’t put together a coherent plan for learning and progression. What hope is there, then? Once you can overcome those hurdles in the learning pyramid, or at least address them, learning becomes possible.