The Learning Cycle

Kids learn.

People learn.

If you aren’t a “lifelong learner,” well, bummer for you. Because you’re dead.

But what exactly does it mean to learn?

What does real learning look like?

I’ve been watching people learn for over 20 years. Everyone goes through this learning cycle:


It all starts when you get curious.

“Hmm… I wonder…”


And then you form curiosity into words.

“What is that?”

“How does it work?”



After the question is out there, someone answers it.

“What is that?”

“It’s a flower.”

You might answer it yourself. Or someone else chime in to offer an answer.

And the answer could be all sorts of things.

  • The “right” answer (something that’s true)
  • The “wrong” answer #1 (something that’s false, but sounds good)
  • The “wrong” answer #2 (something that’s false, and obviously so)
  • The “I don’t know” answer (an open ended un-answer)

The learning cycle can continue.

After obtaining some sort of answer, you decide if you should go on or stop. Continued curiosity causes you to go through the learning cycle again. You start searching for deeper meaning.

“Hmm… What is that?”

“It’s a flower.”

“Oh. It’s funny looking for a flower. Hmm… I wonder…”

And the learning cycle can hit a stop event.

If you have enough information to satisfy your curiosity, you’ll likely stop the learning cycle. (Even if the answerer is ready to give more information.)

“Hmm… What’s that?”

“It’s a flower.”

“Oh. It’s pretty.”

But sometimes the stop event is damaging.

If you obtain an answer in a way that oppresses your natural curiosity, you’ll also stop.

And here’s where trouble starts.

“Hmm… What is that?”

“Really? Are you blind? It’s a flower.”


“Hmm… What’s that?”

“We already went over this. It’s a flower.”

And if you encounter a damaging stop event, you’re likely to internalize it. You’re also likely to avoid that curiosity again.

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