How do you learn?


How do we develop a skill or acquire a particular piece of knowledge? If you break down a learning experience and analyse it in more detail, it can help you think about how you learn best – and you can learn from this for the future.

For example, do you prefer studying on your own or in a more social environment? Maybe it depends on what you are learning? If you want to improve your dancing skills, for example, you will probably want to learn with others. However, you may well prefer to learn cooking by yourself so that you can make mistakes privately!

A point you may want to consider when planning future learning is that it is often easier to concentrate when we study on our own, but we gain new perspectives, stimulus and ideas when we learning with others.

Activity 1.1 Breaking it down Allow about 35 minutes for this activity

1. Think of something you know about, and note down your example in your learning journal.

(This can be anything at all; for example, it might be how to cook a particular type of food or how to repair a bicycle tyre. What is important is that you choose something that you feel reasonably comfortable or confident about.)

2. Next, try to identify all the different stages of your learning.

(You might include things like whether you were taught by someone else, whether you found out by reading about it, or whether you picked it up as a result of trial and error.)

Your notes might look something like this:

My example is learning to drive a car.

"When I think about it, I learned to do this in many ways. I had a driving instructor who told me what to do. I also had written information about things like where the pedals (the accelerator, brake and clutch) were placed. My father also took me out in the family car. He told me things about driving – these were not always the same as the instructor, so I had to decide which was more helpful. Practice during lessons and with dad was important".

3. Now try to answer these questions about your chosen example:

  • Why did you want to learn this particular thing?
  • What did you find was easy to learn, and what did you find was difficult?
  • Is this a typical example of how you approach learning something new?
  • In what ways is it typical?
  • Are there any aspects of your learning in this example that are unusual for you?


Thinking about the way you have successfully learned in the past should help remind you that you are not just able to be a good learner, but someone who already has valuable personal qualities and knowledge.

Much of our learning is informal or ‘everyday’ learning. In some ways, it is precisely this kind of learning that is the most important, as we use it to negotiate our way through life.

Next: Setting SMART goals

Last modified: Thursday, 28 September 2017, 5:52 PM