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7 Steps of How to Learn


The scientific studies are all completed, categorized and published so that we now know how human beings learn.   This blog has reviewed several books recently about how we are motivated to learn and how we are distracted from learning, but we each have to go through the same steps with our own personal style and creativity in order to learn.

The studies show how by being able to learn, and integrate ideas into our living we differ from other forms of life on this planet and are able to be more responsible and creative with our learning.  The studies also show how environments make a difference in what we want to learn and know and use in our lives.  Yet still, we all have to go through the same 7 steps in order to learn, integrate and use that learning.

Step #1:  The IDEA.  As individuals we must know that we need or want to learn something.  Some children just know they want to learn control and not need diapers any more.  Some just learn this idea by observing and others need coaching to get to the point.   We all sometimes need some coaching to know what we want to learn at some time or other in our lives.  Whether the idea arrives by observation or shoving, it usually involves another person – in person- in our lives to succeed.

Step #2:  RESEARCH.  We need to explore the idea and in several different modalities.  This step might involve the individual reading, talking, journaling, and making a field trip.   Let’s say the person wants to know about airplanes; they begin by Googling the word, then reading various websites and articles, taking notes about ideas that are coming alive within them and the emotions provoked, talking to a neighbor who knows a commercial pilot; interviewing the pilot and finding some interesting resources.  One dimensional research keeps the idea alive but does not promote learning.

Step #3:  REVIEW.  This is the step most often ignored, avoided, or overlooked.  You go over your research again – even read your sources again, organize your journal notes and add new emotions.  One talks with more people and learns to ask new questions and clarify.  The old material will look boring sometimes and sharing the same “stuff” with the neighbor is not so interesting.  This is where having a good mentor, teacher, or coach is essential, because they will offer guidance, support and questions that will push one in new directions of thinking.   If you are in a position of isolation, then one can play the game of 5 different ways of looking at the information and finding metaphors and similarities between the different approaches.  Always superior to get some encouragement at this stage and thus one on one is often vital.

Step #4:  WRESTLING.   At this moment in time one is searching for the theme or concept of the learning. One is reviewing notes, interviews and resources but with a sharpening focus.  One must concentrate for awhile and put distractions away until one reaches a point of discernment, sometimes in the form of frustration or confusion of ideas.  For me, I will sometimes get the urge to make cookies, and then eat them all; this never seems to work out well for me but it is a sign I am getting closer.  I can also find lots of things to do to distract from the pressure of this moment, and thus stopping the process – “yes, indeed it is the perfect time to paint the living room”.

Step #5:  SLEEP ON IT.  Yep that is what comes next, even if it is only a 30 minute nap, where one can totally relax the physical self, have the GI track calm, and allow the brain to sort, organize, file and compose.  A computer can NOT accomplish this step.  The brain needs time to work with all those new synaptic connections and make sense of them.  8 hours is best.

Step #6:  USE IT.  For most students, this step involves a term paper or final exam.  As a counselor, this involved finding and teaching the “best practices solution for the best outcomes” for an individual.  For the airplane interested person mentioned in Step #2, that turned out to be just the start point for a young woman architect who now designs living modules for space stations.  One needs to try on the concept or idea and find out if it has purposeful or practical application for their living – is it useful?

Step #7:  INTEGRATION.  The idea is learned and now just naturally flows into other ideas, concepts and life events and conversations.  It is the point where one is smoothly and efficiently driving a car, one does not have to think about every small idea or movement, right to the point of connection on the clutch.  One can translate this knowledge to each new car they drive or process they encounter.

These steps must be practiced on a regular basis, and practicing is important.  The healthiest cooks are not those who treat their families to the most recipes and desserts ( the 1955 criteria), it is the one who keeps learning new ideas about nutrition and that food which each of the people he/she cooks for needs to feel well and be productively healthy.

What new ideas are you learning about right now?  Are you aware of going through each of these steps? How do you handle things that make you uncomfortable or push you to change?  How do you handle a “know it all”?

It is estimated that in the USA only 1/3 of the high school graduates understand the process of learning and complete the process.  100% of the high school graduates say they are in that 1/3rd of the population.  The scientific studies tell us something different and suggest to us that only 1 out of 4 people are competent drivers.

I dedicate this article to all the students who are writing papers, all the folks incorporating something new into their lives and workin’ at it.   And here is my best tidbit about studying for those exams, YOU WILL DO BETTER IF YOU LOOK AT YOUR RESEARCH AND NOTES FOR 5 NIGHTS IN A ROW FOR 30 MINUTES THAN YOU WILL GAIN IN AN ALL NIGHT CRAM SESSION.
Looking forward to your fabulous comments.
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Related Reading:

How We Make Decisions and Changes
The Procrastination Equation
We Have Met the Enemy
David Brook’s  The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement

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16 Responses to “7 Steps of How to Learn”

  1. Sara Says:


    I loved this post. What a well-thought out approach to learning. I liked all your “phases,” but my favorite was “wrestling”…that’s a perfect way to describe this phase.

    I also loved this line of yours, “For me, I will sometimes get the urge to make cookies, and then eat them all; this never seems to work out well for me but it is a sign I am getting closer.” LOL

    This is very helpful. Thank you:~)

    patricia Reply:

    Hi Sara,
    And thank you for coming by and reading my words. I just got a new recipe for flourless peanut butter cookies from Barbara Swafford – I must be on to something here!

    This is old information but I thought it was time to put it up and put it out again into the world.

    Because I need to remember: That most people think they go through all these steps and only 1/3 of them do…and then only 1/3 of them complete the process.

    All the books I review for companies I read twice…old habits but then I truly get the info from them – and some great notes
    Hope all is well with you.

  2. vered | blogger for hire Says:

    “Sleep on it” is so important. It’s tempting to skip this step and hurry things along, but it’s really one of the more important steps.
    vered | blogger for hire recently posted..Things My Mother Taught MeMy Profile

    patricia Reply:

    Your brain truly agrees with this….so true.

    Teenagers need to hear this too as they miss lots of sleep when their brains are confused with hormones and life and doing what it is supposed to do – synapse shifting – Yep it is similar to being 3 / an opportunity to grow new levels of thinking skills – most folks skip it and get into drinking and smoking and override the brains work and opportunity here

  3. suzen Says:

    Hi Patricia! Love this – especially since I’ve been in school for the last few years and want to continue on and on. The learning never ends and it helps me keep my brain alive. Too bad I wasn’t this crazy about school 40 years ago! I’ve been on #7 a long time – lots of info to integrate – and I sometimes think being in a cave for a month would help digestion, ha!

    patricia Reply:

    I think it is important “stuff” and with so many people in school around me right now I needed the reminder myself… I have been reading lots of statistical information and was not surprised that so few young people know how to learn and get to integration – I think we need that skill to be great as adults.

    I hope that folks will not just say – Oh I know how to do that, but rather say – Let me work on learning something new and trying on the steps…and check how they are doing

    a month in a cave!! lol Thank you for that one

  4. Terrill Welch Says:

    Patricia, this post fits so nicely with my day where I just finished facilitating a small public meeting as chair of our community housing options task force. As a Task Force we are now in the review and wrestling stage of revising recommendations. It was a wonderful day and this a great post to remind me where we are at. Nicely Done!

    patricia Reply:

    Thank you for your kind words Terrill and your reference on your blog and noting how these words assisted your evaluations of your good works…

    Thank you too for the gorgeous apple blossoms

  5. Talon Says:

    I loved this post, Patricia. I like learning new things (getting ready to start some photography courses on my new camera) and the thing I like most about learning is putting it into practice — the sleep on it is an easy step for me – lol!

    As for know-it-alls, I tend to avoid them. They wear me out because I find myself simply nodding, not truly listening, and waiting for an opportunity to escape. I have learned so much more from observing people using their skills, then I’ve ever learned from a so-called know-it-all telling me things.
    Talon recently posted..SeekingMy Profile

    patricia Reply:

    Thank you I appreciate your knowing words here…and what fun a new photography course WhooHoo!

    I find know-it-alls very hard to deal with, because they don’t let my mind work at all and yes like you I close down. It is what I dislike most about most news broadcasts these days – so many tell one how to think, feel, or learn about a piece of information and they deny the learning process from happening.

    A number of my children’s teachers were like this too and they were quite popular?

  6. Hilary Says:

    Hi Patricia .. I am so uneducated it’s almost untrue – yet something sank in (I realise it must have!) .. I’m just educating myself all the time now through my own blog – and definitely through others ..

    Knowing how I struggled through school .. never got to college .. did a professional qualification in my 30s/40s .. common sense got me through that ..

    I couldn’t do cramming – too exhausted! I like the idea of 30 minutes for 5 days on the trot .. on each subject – makes sense. It was suggested I studied for 15 mins – got up walked around thought about what I’d learnt, and then went back to the next bit.

    Perhaps I can learn easily now – because I can understand the world and history better – therefore more things make sense, slot into their place, and yet every thread of silken idea is linked somewhere along the line ..

    Thanks – interesting to read .. cheers Hilary
    Hilary recently posted..Food- Food Glorious Food fit for a future King and Queen 1-2My Profile

    patricia Reply:

    I think there are just things different people have to grow into. I am now able to do some mathematics now after 40 years of doing the accounts for everyone and cooking….some things just pop into my head now that were lost to me for years and years. I think I might be able to learn to sew now??? I still have spacial problems

    I think if my sister had truly continued trying to read she might be able to do it now…

    The brain makes another shift in the 60s of life, and it is another time of great learning opportunity.

    I’ll just call you Professor from here on out !

  7. Hilary Says:

    Hi Patricia .. little me .. you’d have the whole of England laughing at that nom de plume!! Professor Plum may be …..

    Cheers from the Prof!! Life is tough .. I’m just lucky – I can do things .. mostly – it’s chilly here – shrouded in mist .. Hilary

    patricia Reply:

    Professor Plum in the Conservatory with the knowledge at hand…

    By George, I think she’s got it!

  8. Arts Web Show Says:

    This whole post makes a lot of sense.
    I like the 8 hours is best bit.
    Unfortunately if i slept 8 hours per day, they would be no free time outside of work to learn anything anyway.

    patricia Reply:

    Now Richard, I just read on your site that you slept 11 hours straight through after your move…
    Good for you
    Your brain and body need that because you are so creative and work a very physically demanding job…at least a couple of times a week – give it a try :)

    Thanks for coming on by – loved your food poem