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December 1, 2013

Non-Linear Learning Is OK

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“I’m a very organised and rational and linear thinker, and you have to stop all that to write a novel.” Hilary Mantel

Most of us were programmed early on starting with our very first day in school to think of learning as a linear process. In other words, the predetermined curriculum says first you learn this, then you learn this, then you learn this, and so on. Sometimes that is a fine way to learn things, but it is not the only way.

We are all innately curious and exploratory human beings. It’s built into our DNA that we quite naturally explore our world and learn as we explore. If you think about our more primitive ancestors and how they learned, it was not in a linear, planned fashion. Instead, they learned amid often tumultuous and challenging environments in which they had to react and adjust to the information they gathered along the way. In other words, they continually experienced something, decided if that was a good or bad thing, self-corrected if necessary, and tried something again until they got it right.

This is also why real-world experiences often teach us better than classroom-based instruction or other more formal methods of teaching. Real life situations engage that total immersion, self-correcting style of learning that’s an incredibly effective learning method. That is why things like apprenticeships are such great ways to learn something.

A modern variation of this learning approach is often termed reflective learning. Reflective learning is a kissing cousin of experiential learning. Reflective learning is the process by which you internally examine and explore an experience and the information inherent in that experience and that develops deeper meaning and context for the information learned. Through this approach to thinking deeply during your learning you are able to break information and experience down into its significant aspects, create meaningful links between theory and practice, improve your performance by using the results of your reflection to inform your future practice, and more deeply incorporate the learning by realizing the personal value of that learning. In short, reflective learning deepens and improves the learning experience.

So feel free to learn things in any order and manner that works best for you.

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