Updated: Sep 21, 2020
My daughter is learning to play a new piece on the piano this week, after having her Zoom lesson. She told her teacher she thought it would be a hard one.
She tries out the notes by herself for awhile. She starts to play most of them right. Her rhythm is off, so she practices counting out the beats. She adds the left-hand and plays tentatively.
As I watch her struggle, and hear her frustration, I am reminded that learning something new can be challenging...oh. so. challenging.
Whether we are learning a new skill for our job, baking with yeast for the first time, or studying the Scriptures, a pattern takes place. We learn, we practice and we grow - well, that's usually the goal anyway.
It is common knowledge that vegetables are good for you, but how many vegetables do you eat in a day? (perhaps you are much better than I am with healthy eating). Or we know that physical exercise is healthy, but we just can't seem to step out or sustain it. How about the sermon you listened to on Sunday, how did you act out this week what you learned?
See, we can hear something or know it cognitively, yet not act on it in our life. We can try out a new habit as a resolution for the new year, only to see it wither away in 4 months' time. Learning is not just committing knowledge to our brains, it's about sustaining new practices for our character, integrity and wisdom.
What stops us from taking what we know and putting it into practice?
A new resource by Duane and Muriel Elmer, called The Learning Cycle: Insights for Faithful Teaching from Neuroscience and the Social Sciences, highlights for us some practical, incremental steps towards applying knowledge we learn into behaviours for life.
It's primarily written for educators of all spectrums, Bible study leaders, school teachers, professors, pastors, and mentors; it helps challenge and equip them to transform the lives of those they influence.
However, I found plenty of application for my own life, in the areas where I am learning and in habits that I am developing.
So, here is the Learning Cycle.
1. Recall - I remember the information
The first aspect of learning is remembering the content you were taught. At college level, this is your lecture; it could be the sermon you heard, or the book you read. So, we ask ourselves two questions, "Doest it make sense?" and "Does it have meaning?"
They propose a learning activity called a "Memo to Myself' where you answer the two questions to help solidify why the information is valuable. For example, I could read a chapter of Scripture during my devo time and write out in my journal how I found it meaningful for my life.
This brings what I know into sync with how important it is to me.
2. Recall with Appreciation - I value the information
Our emotions play a big role in what we remember, and how we remember it. If you think back to your favourite subject in school, would you attribute it to a passionate, dynamic teacher? How about your least favourite? Likely the opposite.
We place more value on what impacts our emotions positively, and we run away from those experiences that affect us negatively.
This reminds us to foster a safe, accepting environment for our learners.
3. Recall with Speculation - I ponder how to use the information
Once we have a grasp for the content we are learning, we begin to reflect on how we can act differently, solve a problem or implement a new behaviour. We take some time to think through how we can apply our new insight into our life.
Once we come up with a few ideas, we find a great opportunity to build community by sharing with others.
Something like an accountability group, a mentor or friends, who can support your new learning and encourage you in what you want to do. Perhaps I reflected on a passage of Scripture, and was convicted to develop a practice of hospitality. By sharing with others around me, I can find encouragement towards that new habit becoming a reality.
4. Barriers to Change
There is no doubt that we have all tried something new, at one stage or another, and failed to continue it throughout the year.
"Be ready for messiness. When you resolve to follow Jesus and establish new patterns of behaviour, expect challenges"
At this point in the cycle, we take a good look at what we want to do different and identify the barriers to change, then make a "plan to overcome, sidestep, or remove those potential barriers."
So often, we try something new but we forget to first count the cost, or anticipate what could impede our growth. This is an important step in sustaining change.
5. Recall with Practice - I begin changing my behaviour
We finally get to the point where we start doing something new!
Are you surprised that it took this long in the cycle?
How often don't I just decide to eat healthy, have a salad for lunch, but forget to go shopping for more veggies and thus the new habit ends.
The effort we put into recognizing the importance and value of how we want to grow, is essential as we begin, because doing something new will have growing pains.
It's like when you start to exercise and wake up the next morning with your sore muscles, there will be discomfort. It might be feelings of awkwardness, or struggles with failure and disappointment, but the discomfort will come.
In those moments, we need to remember that "practice is the repetition of an action in the service of a purpose or goal." Developing a new habit, takes on average 66 days. So don't lose hope. Humbly persevere. Lean into your community.
6. Recall with Habit - I do consistently
"Integrity grows with consistency. What we know is being integrated into our daily thoughts and actions. Habits become who we are. Character is being formed. The person who sees God's truth and obeys is defined in Scripture as a "wise" person."
We can develop good habits, or we can change bad habits. As we become consistent in one thing, we will develop momentum, and some excitement, to start the learning cycle again in another area. This is living the obedient Christian life, moving towards Christ-likeness, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, what do you think? That's the learning cycle.