Further Exploration of Learning Levels

by Dan Walsh

Understanding how level 0 -3 learnings work has been a revelation for me. All of those profound moments in my life suddenly make sense now because I have a framework and a vocabulary with which to understand them.

My understanding of the 4 levels…

Level 0. An insight or aha! moment. Something clicks.

These are common and facilitated by data or knowledge. More exposure to data or knowledge will create more aha! moments. This is the foundation of the Quantified Self movement: track something that was previously untracked or undertracked and create insights. Food journaling is a great example of this. The new journaler almost always discovers some bad eating habit that they had no idea they were doing. “I eat that many chips!?!”

I read a book every week which creates a slew of aha! moments for me because of the exposure to new information.

Level 1. A behaviour change that was driven by this insight.

Insights are useless unless they create behaviour change. Knowing something new doesn’t create change until it is applied to the self or the world. Based on the above food journaling insight, the simple behaviour change would be to stop eating chips. This might include throwing out all chips in the house, posting a “No Chip” sign at the office, and finding a crunchy alternative like almonds or carrot sticks.

The books I read often generate too many insights for me to take action on all of them. Perhaps I need a behaviour change here…

Level 2. A change to self.

After consistently performing this new behaviour for a long period of time, certain aspects of the self will change. It’s like Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” After refusing chips and switching to healthier alternatives for a month or two, the food journaler might realize that they see themselves as someone who eats healthfully. In fact, they have become someone who eats more healthfully. No doubt about it. They might also notice that others see them as someone who chooses healthy options. This new model of their self might be in stark contrast to their old model. They may have always seen themselves as someone who eats junk food. If so, then this new version of themselves is a liberating and empowering paradigm shift away from their old junk-food-eating self. This change is related to the specific behaviour change from Level 1, but it creates a systemic ripple affect throughout a person’s life. Viewing one’s self as healthy will inform all kinds of other decisions like smoking, alcohol consumption and exercise frequency. Maybe they start taking the stairs everyday too.

This change in self is gradual, but eventually obvious. Every time I have gone through a transformational learning it has been Level 2 that alerted me to it. It was only after I started to feel well-read and wise that I realized reading so many books had changed me.

Level 3. What are the learning lessons that can be distilled from this personal change?

After the self has been transformed, there is an opportunity to reflect on how this change occurred, and then codify what worked to facilitate further change. The mantra is “What did you learn, about how you learn?”. Agencies do this a lot. It’s called a post-mortem. Most people don’t perform post-mortems on themselves, but this is where the most powerful insights exist. Perhaps the food journaler realized that eating lunch with coworkers created a situation that was too difficult to refuse chips. To remedy this he removed himself from the temptation by changing his lunch hour to be after everyone else’s. This worked! The meta-lesson might be that he is highly influenced by peers, and so moving forward he should exclusively surround himself with people who have good habits in the areas he wants to improve.

This Level 3 learning is difficult to grasp. I struggled with this until I started analyzing how and when my desired behaviour change was working. When did I read a book a week? When did I fall behind? What were the differences in these two circumstances and how can I use this information to ensure success moving forward? With reading, I discovered that the down-time while commuting to work on the bus was prime reading time. I generalized this insight and came to the conclusion that if I want to accomplish something, I need to carve out time in my schedule to execute. This learning has transferred to all my endeavors and has made a huge difference in what I accomplish and how quickly.