Learning Levels

by Dan Walsh

I had a breakthrough last night.

This is going to get deep.

I’m going to use the word meta.

Be prepared.

I am currently working my way through the Advanced Learning and Teaching audio course by Eben Pagan and Wyatt Woodsmall. One of the major ideas in the course is that learning occurs on four levels. Each is progressively more useful, but also harder to understand. I, and pretty much everyone who attended the live-recorded course, struggled to fully grasp what these levels are, let alone how they specifically apply to life. It’s only been about a month, but I finally got it last night.

The Learning Levels (Paraphrased)

Level 0: Knowledge and information.

Level 1: What have you learned / how has your behaviour changed?

Level 2: How have you changed? (meta)

Level 3: What have you learned about how you learn? (meta-meta)

They keep these levels intentionally vague and don’t give too many examples so the audience (and listener) have to put in the effort. Instead, Eben provides feedback to the audience members who share their progress. It’s kind of a twisted game of hotter/colder, but it’s important for the student to really earn these new insights.

I have been turning these ideas around in my head on a daily basis, trying to get a new level of understanding. Most of the audience, myself included, were struggling with vague notions of how this knowledge would help us moving forward. In the future. It wasn’t until Eben suggested looking to past behaviour changes that it finally clicked for me.

I kept trying to hypothetically work my way from level 0 to level 3. This wasn’t helpful. The process of personal discovery and growth isn’t usually so linear when it occurs organically. The breakthrough moment for me was when I started with level 2. I asked myself, “when was the last time that I profoundly changed as a person?” The answer was “last year when I learned to swim.” From there, I was able to fill in levels 0 and 1, and then contemplate on level 3. In many ways I simply hadn’t paid attention to level 0 and 1 because I moved through them too quickly and without much thought. Level 3 was something new that I didn’t even really know existed.

Filling in the gaps, my level 0-3 learnings look something like this:

Level 0: Not knowing how to swim holds me back from a lot of exciting things like surfing, scuba diving, kite surfing, snorkeling, etc. It also creates extra anxiety whenever I’m on a boat or near water. The Earth is covered with water. I’m severely limiting where I can go and what I can do by not knowing how to swim.

Level 1: My behaviour change was that I signed up for swimming lessons every other week and practiced for 1-2 hours per week in between lessons.

Level 2: As a result of conquering a fear and removing an insecurity, I became more confident about everything in life, especially regarding challenges. Suddenly nothing seemed impossible. Fuck, in some ways I conquered death.

Level 3: This is the doozy. I learned that I learn best with a coach and with constant feedback on progress. In many ways, learning to swim is it’s own coach. It is a complex motion and one that is not naturally intuitive. I had to progressively add parts of the motion to avoid being overwhelmed. Each new motion was a sign of progress. Then, once I had the motions together, the growing number of successful laps I could complete was a marker of performance. Now I work on speed. Everything about swimming is a feedback loop.

I will continue to develop these ideas and assess other areas of my life where I can apply this framework to gain understanding on how I changed or how I should perform change. Of the top of my head:

  • Personal finances
  • Fitness & diet
  • Reading a book every week

Bonus: Level 4

After fully understanding levels 0-3, I see that level 3 learnings are also level o learnings. For example, learning that I learn best with a coach should result in a behaviour change of finding a coach for every area of my life where I want to improve. This will turn me into someone new, and then I will reflect on what I learned and repeat the process.

*This article is rough and needs edits for clarity, grammar, spelling, and tense usage.