Learning how to learn


By now, we can all recite Malcolm Knowles’ Androgogical principles for Adult learning by heart.

We have had challenging conversations about learning styles, learning preferences, what kind of environment to create that best promotes learning.

But what if you weren’t taught to learn but instead were taught the subject. Make sense? I truly believe that the ability to learn to learn comes from within each of us.

To learn we need:


Each of us needs to see the benefit of learning. We need to aspire to be a learner. Being a learner is a humbling role, fraught with challenge, angst, time juggling (it used to be known as time management but truly? All we do is juggle and bargain with ourselves for those precious moments earmarked as learning or school). Those of us who will excel, have aspiration for greater opportunities. (thinking with my appreciative inquiry hat on J)

Researchers have found that shifting your focus from challenges to benefits is a good way to increase your aspiration to do initially unappealing things.


As a learner, we need to be self-aware; of our learning preferences, our personality type and especially our self-assessment of our skills. I would love to say that I perform phenomenally everyday. Realistically I have moments of brilliance altered with “over average performance”. By focusing on my benefits and opportunities I am able to realistically aspire toward greatness. I am aware that it won’t happen everyday, but a few more days a week would be awesome.


Be curious. Be curious to your potential. If you are curious as a learner your world will naturally expand. You will be the self-determined learner who seeks knowledge in everything you do.

Changing Your Inner Narrative

I don’t need to
learn this.
  What would my future look like if I did?
I’m already fine at this.   Am I really? How do I compare with my peers?
This is boring.   I wonder why others find it interesting.
I’m terrible at this.   I’m making beginner mistakes but I’ll get better.

Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus International and the author ofGrowing Great EmployeesBeing StrategicLeading So People Will Follow, and the forthcomingBe Bad First.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2016 issue (pp.98–101) of Harvard Business Review.












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