VCoLing: Learning to Learn [Lectica]

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Lectica’s overall approach to learning in a complex world deserves its own dedicated post, which I hope to write one day. Today, I want to focus on a smaller piece of their overall thesis — their framework for “how we learn?” because it stands on its own and is more broadly applicable, regardless of the learning goal that you’re applying it towards. 

I am mostly synthesizing content from two sources: 

Virtuous cycles of learning (VCoL) and the +7 skills

Learning in the moment: How to use micro-VCoLs to learn optimally on the fly

Lectica’s framework, called the “Virtuous Cycle of Learning” or VCoL for short consists of 4 key steps: setting a learning goal → gathering information → applying what you’ve learned → reflecting on the outcome. Sparing you my rant on the overall underappreciated importance of reflection in many other approaches to learning, this macro cycle is very similar to other progressive frameworks describing a learning process, with minor variations in the labeling of the different steps. 

When things start to get interesting, and have certainly expanded my knowledge of learning, is in the way Lectica decomposed this cycle further and in the way it is applied to real-world situations. 

The +7 skills

Lectica identified 7 key skills that support the practice of learning. Each, in turn, can be strengthened through a set of specific practices.

Source: Lectica
  1. Awareness of self, others, and the environment: observing and documenting thoughts, feelings, or behavior; self-evaluation; practicing non-judgmental openness to experience; meditation; mindfulness in everyday life; somatic practices, like yoga; coherence practices, like HeartMath
  2. Skills for making connections between ideas, information, emotions, perspectives, and evidence: brainstorming; Minto Pyramid problem solving; polarity thinking (or both / and thinking); mind mapping; causal loop diagramming (or other systems mapping approaches); building relational databases
  3. Skills for seeking and evaluating information, evidence, and perspectives: active listening; deep listening (Kramer); seeking clarification; “library” research; critical thinking; action inquiry (particularly second-person action inquiry); the scientific method
  4. Skills for applying what we know in real-world contexts: action learning; project-based learning; developing action plans or development plans; rehearsing — reducing risk by trying out new knowledge in hypothetical situations; writing or critical discourse — using new knowledge to improve an argument or message
  5. Reflectivity — a cultivated habit of reflecting on outcomes, information, emotions, or events: making sure that learning goals are “just right”; embedding learning in real life, as a part of everyday activities; not punishing learners for making mistakes — helping them see mistakes as a source of useful information; ensuring that every learning cycle, no matter how small, ends with goal setting
  6. Skills for seeking and making use of feedback: openness to feedback; awareness of your own defensiveness; feedback-seeking skills (like helping others feel comfortable providing you with feedback); skills for evaluating and incorporating feedback; second-person action inquiry; participation in focus groups; customer or employee surveys
  7. Awareness of cognitive and behavioral biases and skills for avoiding them: cultivating humility — recognizing the ubiquity of human fallibility; building critical thinking skills; regularly seeking feedback; tackling common cognitive biases, one at a time (e.g., conservation bias, bandwagon effect, stereotyping, or attribution bias)

The 7 skills are also very helpful in better triangulating where the learning cycle is weakest (or breaks down altogether) and then taking focused action to strengthen that particular skill. 

Micro-VCoLing

Often times we want to work on a macro skill that’s a bit too lofty, abstract or risky to pursue as a whole. Let’s say we want to improve our “collaborative capacity”, for example. It seems like a worthy goal, but where do we begin? 

We begin by decomposing the macro skill into something more tangible. For example: part of a strong collaborative capacity is having strong facilitation skills. Facilitation skills, in turn, include but are not limited to having strong active listening skills. Active listening skills can be decomposed to: identifying opportunities for listening, giving others opportunities to speak, etc. 

Now we have something in hand that we can more easily run a VCoL around and practice “in the real world” with one additional useful distinction. If we zoom back out to the crude VCoL loop: set, seek, apply, reflect — two stages in the loop, “reflect” and “seek”, are more internal, or done in consultation with a trusted coach or mentor. The other two, “seek” and “apply” is where we engage with the outside environment differently, with the learning goal in mind. And those too can be broken down into micro-VCoLs: an “awareness VCoL”, in which we either increase awareness of opportunities to practice a skill or identify individuals who are proficient in a given skill; and a “practice VCoL”, in which we build virtuosity in the particular learning goal. Examples of the two are shown below.

The next time you set a learning goal for yourself, consider using VCoL as your framework for learning. 

VCoLing: Learning to Learn [Lectica]

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