Two Opposite But Important Elements of Learning

There are two elements of learning that seem almost opposite, yet, each contribute immeasurably to the ability of a person to learn. Without these two elements, a person does not learn as deeply as they could. When designing a learning intervention, you need to design both high levels of activity as well as quiet times for reflection. You can not have true learning success without both of these activities within a learning design.


Interacting with a simulation of an inspection of a fighter aircraft.

Learning is about action, activity and engagement. The learner needs to be practicing the task he or she undertakes, the learner needs to be engaged in the instruction and working in an authentic or realistic environment. The learner needs to be “doing.” He or she needs to be interacting with the content, making decisions and seeing firsthand the consequences of those actions and activities. The learner needs to see cause and effective…if I do that…this will happen. He or she needs to be actively engaged in practicing the task before them. The more practice, the better the ultimate performance. Purposeful practice of tasks leads to learning. Games can provide opportunities to practice skills and performing tasks but games aren’t required, many learning tasks can be practiced and should be practiced. We require practice of doctors, sports stars and pilots…we need to have practice for sales representatives, order entry clerks and folks on the shipping docks. The need to practice and to be active in learning is fundamental to learning.


Reflecting on learning can happen anywhere, but the beach would be my choice.

Learning comes from quiet reflection. An experience without reflection is just an experience…its not learning. After an activity or experience is over and the learner sits back and reflects upon what happened, that’s when learning occurs. When a learner has a chance to view his or her actions through a detached and distant lens, he or she gains insights into behaviors and the proper way of performing a function. After Action Reviews (AAR) are an excellent method of gathering lessons learned based on dissecting previous actions and learning what worked well and what needed improvement. Quiet reflection leads to learning. We reflect on our activities of the day and we resolve to improve, to learn from our mistakes to do it differently next time. We read a book and reach in individual epiphany and learn what we need to do better, differently, more intensely…this is learning from reflection.

As Peter Drucker has been rumored to have said:

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
―Peter Drucker
Read more great quotes here

So when you sit down to design your instruction, ensure you have both heavy periods of activity as well as time for quiet reflection. Without both, you are doing your learners a dis-service.

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Karl Kapp
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