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How People Learn

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How People Learn

At Talking Stick, our methodology and practices are built upon the reality of how people learn, which is perversely enough incredibly individualized and vastly universal at the same time. From the perspective of human evolution, the adaptive nature of the human learning process is self-evident. We developed the ability to “learn” because it increased the individual’s chance to survive to reproductive age and pass down whatever genes made continuously advancing learning more possible, and therefore increase the viability of the whole species. The learning process is, of course, extremely complex but can be summed up in a nutshell: Experience. Process information. Compare with what you already know. Make as much sense of it as you can. Apply analysis to next experience. Experience. Rinse. Repeat. Learning means we can adapt to changing environments. The majority of us are born with the potential to develop a mental structure upon which to hang our experiences and knowledge. Learning is like fruit, inherently sweet and purposefully rewarding.

The question persists: How will young people educated without coercion ever learn everything they need to learn in order to succeed in life? People learn what is useful to them. Reading, writing, math, social skills, etc, are incredibly important skills to master and apply in our culture. Our job as parents and educators is to keep learning experiences free from pressure and judgment so that young people can have positive associations with skill development and knowledge acquisition.

We are all capable of developing new skills and deeper understanding when we are motivated to do so. When there is a palpable reward such as a really beautiful pillow to sew. Or a game that is fun to play. Or the freedom we gain from learning to drive. If we have motivation and are not conditioned to believe that risk of failure is something to avoid, we are open to learn and develop in multiple possible areas.

For example, I never gave my son reading instruction. However, for years I read to him every day, made weekly trips to the library, played games that prepared his brain for reading, and always told him what a word was when he asked. I created a literate environment so that when he was developmentally ready and had a reason to learn, reading would come naturally. At age eight he started playing a strategy card game that required reading what each card was able to do in order to play. Because he was incredibly motivated he learned to read at grade level within a few weeks.

Learning is an inherently enjoyable process. When given the freedom to explore their own interests, in their own styles, at their own paces, children can maintain the love of learning we are all born with. Imagine the possibilities if that love could last a lifetime.



  1. After posting this I reconsidered the title to be Why People Learn, because it is more about our drive to learn than styles of learning. For learning styles, consider reading Howard Gardner’s work, such as Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.