Four levels of learning: reading, sharing, doing, practicing.


The other day, David Homa came to work with Ruby and me for a day and walk us through a couple of aspects of building a permaculture food forest: amending the soil based on our soil tests, sheet mulch over an existing lawn, and building a hugelkultur.

Learning from David – showing us how to prune elderberry trees and then making us do it.

As I was doing these things, I could literally feel my brain taking it in, learning making new synapses – it’s a bit of a buzz, a happy feeling.  Humans like learning; we have a positive emotional response to it (research has found).

Doing the actual thing with someone is what I might call my “third level of learning”.  On the first level of learning, I read – lots and lots of books and many hours of scouring the internet for this or that specific topic.   At the end of this, I have a ton of information in my head.  In conversations I can bring up no end of interesting tidbits, but there are often little gaps in the stories.  On the second level, I take classes — like the Permaculture Design Course at Orchard Hill.  Sitting in a class — with other people and getting the information from real people — the same or similar information (as from the books) gets connected to different parts of my brain, the ones linked to “shared with people”, as well as “place”, and “experiences”.    I can sense that this solidifies the information, makes it more accessible, integrated, and organized in my brain.  On the third level, I do things with an expert.  I am (outside) on a site, and actually move my body and stuff, in the real world.  Now, the part of my brain that deals with tactile memories is activated as is the “do it this way” prioritization.

With just the first level of knowledge, I do go out and try things – in fact, I’ve gardened in this way for years — but I’m hesitant, waffle between doing it this way or that way, and do lots of all over the place internet searches.  By the time I get to the third level, I am focused, intentional, and efficient (not to mention confident).   If I keep doing it a couple of times, eventually I will actually remember it long-term – that is a fourth level.

You don’t have to do all four levels to learn something.  For example, I am learning play the violin, only on the third and fourth levels – taking lessons with Esther, doing the playing, and then practicing.  In schools, we do things mostly only on levels one and two.  Hm… is that the right way to teach all the world’s children?  But that’s another topic.

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