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013 // Designing a Learning System for the Good Life

Image with text. Text reads: Ideas from Dawan for people who think and solve like a designer.

Prefer to listen? Here’s the podcast episode associated with this article.

What is your learning system?

Don’t worry. Even if you can’t answer that question, you still have one. It’s just operating in hope-for-the-best mode instead of create-a-good-life mode.

Learning is the process of becoming able to do new things. A learning system adds on having a strategy for choosing what to learn and a way to evaluate the learning. The learning systems most of us use are hope-mode learning. In hope-mode, we allow the world to choose our learning challenges for us at school and at work. An external challenge — a curriculum, certification requirement, or business change — presents a gap between what we know how to do and what the world wants us to be able to do (or at least appear to be able to do).

In addition to being very reactive on the front end, hope-mode learning is sloppy on the back end because it rarely includes the practice required for deep expertise. Also, hope mode learning lacks mechanisms for becoming a better learner by modifying your learning system. Mechanisms are required for moving information from short-term memory to long-term memory.

Good-life learning is different. The motivations are internal and connected to living well. When learning is personal, our brain engages more deeply. The choice of what to learn is guided by bigger questions. How will learning this make me a better person? How will this learning journey affect my connections to others? What are the short-term outcomes and long-term opportunities I’m seeking? How might I need to adapt how I learn? Good-life learning doesn’t mean ignoring things like degree pathways and business skill acquisition. Good-life learning means not approaching those learning options as though they are isolated from life.

In Fluid Hive’s Good-life Learning System, you’re regularly asking a set of questions. Humans are giant bags of volatile liquids sloshing about in a world of hard surfaces and sharp edges rearranging themselves every time we blink. Asking and reasking these learning systems questions helps keep us nimble and adaptive as we change and the world changes (in case you missed it, the world is the fast one). So here’s Fluid Hive’s Good-life Learning System in 10 questions.

  1. What problems are you able to solve? — Maybe you thought this question was going to be, “What do you know?” The world doesn’t care what you know. It only cares about the problems you can solve with what you know. You can start with what you know, but connect that knowledge to problems people want and need to solve.
  2. What new problems would you like to be able to solve? — Once you’ve mapped where you can solve well, it’s time to look at the gap between the world you have and the world you want. What could you learn to do that would help you close that gap? What evidence do you have that the learning will close that gap?
  3. What will learning to solve these problems do for your life? — The learning journey could be brief or take years. How will it affect your life? Take a broad view. Think about loves and friendships, community, health, spirit, work, and joys. Think about how your learning choices will affect each area.
  4. What will being able to solve these problems do for your life? — This is about the experience of doing the work and getting results. Who will you create with and struggle with? How will you continue to learn? How will you develop your health and fitness, learning system, community connections, and personal relationships as part of doing the work? Everything is connected. How will being able to solve these problems help you live well?
  5. What must you experience to learn to solve these problems? — Knowledge is easy to come by. Opportunities to apply it are harder to create for yourself. Find examples of how people are solving the problems that interest you or similar problems. Next, find a few small projects working on aspects of these problems and apply the foundational elements of what you (think) you know.
  6. What challenges can you expect along the way? — There are two kinds of predictable challenges. You can learn about domain-specific challenges by asking experts where people often stumble when they are learning. The challenges you create, or in-your-own-way challenges, live in your blind spots. You can root them out by writing down how you intend to behave and the outcomes you expect. When you compare your actual behavior and outcomes, that harsh light will show you opportunities to protect you against you.
  7. How will you judge how the learning journey is contributing to your life? — Learning well isn’t something we suffer though then get on with living. It is the essence of being human. By asking how the process of learning is affecting relationships, family, health, work, community, and all the other areas of your life, you are able to make the learning journey part of what serves a good life as opposed to a life interruption to be endured.
  8. How will you evaluate your learning? — You’ll want to establish a pace and rhythm to your learning so you can objectively measure your progress. You’ll want to slice abilities into their smallest units (“able to plan an event” becomes “able to create an agenda, create invitations, design content, shape outcomes, present outputs, etc.). You’ll want to identify opportunities to demonstrate how well you’ve learned each ability and find a way to measure your performance against a standard of excellence.
  9. How will you practice what you’ve learned? — Practice continues the evaluation from your learning journey except now you are looking to push beyond the existing standards of excellence. You’ll want to identify daily, weekly, and monthly ways to develop your abilities and scan for new abilities you might use with the problems you’re solving.
  10. How will you judge how solving problems based on your learning is contributing to your life? — We often hear the learn-apply dichotomy. Initial learning and ongoing learning are better ways to look at what’s happening. Your initial learning journey includes application to pieces of problems. That scales up until you enter ongoing learning where you are solving whole problems. Periodically, you’ll want to check how the ongoing learning and solving these problems is contributing to all the areas of your life. If something isn’t working, you may have identified another kind of problem to learn to solve.

Having a learning system allows you to make learning more enjoyable, predictable and effective. When life throws challenges at you, you have a system to make those challenges digestible and to clarify your adaptation pathways. Over time, your learning system fades into the background as it becomes part of the habits that support living well.

Use the Ask Like a Designer Thinking Tool download for this article to explore and apply Fluid Hive’s Good-life Learning System.

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