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Article: The Three Phases of Learning Related Resources

The Three Phases of Learning
by Susan J. Letham

Success depends on your ability to learn constantly. Some of your learning is picked up along the way and some is seat- of-your-pants learning. Either way, learning takes place in three phases. Understanding how learning works-formal or informal-will make it easier for you to soak up new skills and apply them successfully.

Learning takes place in three phases.

What most of us call "learning" is made up of a lesson phase, a learning phase, and a practice phase. If you prefer you can call these phases the "taking it in" phase, the "thinking it through" phase, and the "putting it into practice" phase.

Knowing a little about the the purpose of each phase and the processes that take place will help you gain the greatest benefit from your learning experience in any field.

The lesson phase: Taking things in

During lesson time you, the learner, are presented with new material and concepts. The main purpose of this phase is for you to familiarize yourself with new material and to absorb the text, images and explanations your tutor considers most relevant to the topic at this time.

Although learning is listed as a separate phase, in reality, it begins the moment you receive new input. At unconscious level, you'll be comparing the new material with things you already know, looking for similarities, contrasts, and connections.

You need to be fully aware that you are being offered only one set of views of the learning topic and that there may be other views. Take the views you are offered at face value for the time being, but think them through at all costs. Be ready to question them in the light of other opinions and in the light of your existing knowledge and experience.

The learning phase: Thinking things through

Learning doesn't happen during lectures or by reading books. It takes place once class is over and your books are closed. Real learning begins when you start tossing what you've read or heard around in your mind, consciously looking for the matches and mismatches between it and what you already know.

There are many ways to do what we call "thinking." Not all learners think in the same way: some like to ponder and imagine, others like to talk things through with other learners or a tutor, another type of learner may prefer to draw diagrams or doodle out mind maps to help her mull over new ideas. Some like to think independently, others prefer to think inside a structure at first.

The main thing is that at some point in this phase you take the input you picked up in the lesson phase, process it, and come to first conclusions on three things: the validity of the input, the ways in which it links to other things you know, and some ways in which you think you can test or use your new information and ideas.

The practice phase: Putting things into practice

The practice phase is where you carry out the tests and try the uses you came up with in the learning phase.

Regular practice is more effective than random bursts. Try to set aside a minimum of three 30-60 minute practice periods a week. Shorter practice periods are unlikely to be helpful. It takes most people 15-20 minutes to leave the busy world behind and slip into a state of mind in which they can fully concentrate.

In some situations your teacher or tutor may provide you with exercises that help you practice what you've learned. The point of working with the tutor's material is to gain the insight you need to understand how the principles that underlie what you've learned can apply to a new range of situations.

You can (and should) try different kinds of practice to find out which approaches work best for you. Some typical methods include re-reading texts and notes, formulating questions about the material and the thoughts you had about it, drawing pictures and diagrams to show links between old and new information, and applying what you've learned to existing projects.

Learning doesn't end after the practice phase, though! The outcome of your practice phase often becomes the input for the next lesson phase. You'll cycle through these three phases many times as you learn, integrating new material and experience in each cycle. By the end of your learning experience you should have passed through the phases often enough to have a clear idea of what you've learned, what you think about it, and what you can do with your new knowledge.

© 2004, Susan J. Letham

Susan J. Letham is a British writer, creative writing tutor, and owner of . Sign up for classes and competent 1-on-1 coaching. Pick up your no-cost subscription to the monthly Inspired2Write Newsletter at:

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