12 Types of Learning

To prepare the ground for my next blog post (Q24- KM and power: constant bed fellows), we will use the KM framework introduced in F2 (Intangibles: More Essential for Value Creation) and F5 (A Proposed KM Framework) to look at different ways that we learn.

I have illustrated 10 different ways to apply the KM framework in 10 past blog posts:

Delineating the 12 types of learning (see diagram below) will be the 11th illustration of using the KM framework. I am using the same color codings (yellow for knowledge, crimson for action and green for results) as in the above 10 illustrations. This typology refers to the channels or modalities of learning and does not presume whether and how far in fact the knowledge receiver learned (thanks to Bill Kaplan of Washington, D.C. for pointing this out).

12 ways we learn

Person A and Person B are co-equal in power, authority and influence. Interactions between people with unequal power are discussed in the next blog post on “KM and Power”. In the diagram, we start with Type 1 at the extreme right and proceed towards the left for Type 2 and the rest.

Type 1 is simply studying What Works Better, where A and B compare results of their actions; the two learn when they discover which action produces better results.

Type 2 or Communal Validation is similar to Type 1 but it involves a community and its protocols for knowledge validation. For example, the scientific community learns and generates new knowledge through scientific protocols on observation of results of actions/experiments up to analysis and interpretation of data. In a community of practitioners (CoP), identification, documentation and transfer of best practice follow similar protocols: results of many similar actions are compared and a “best” practice is identified, documented and shared with the rest of the community. Ken Wilber calls the steps in Type 2 learning as “three strands of valid knowing”; see his books “The Marriage of Sense and Soul” or “A Sociable God”. (Thanks to Mark Wolfe for pointing out that the feedback does reach back to enculturation and training.)

While Communal Validation is a feedback from observed results to mental models (=knowledge, beliefs, paradigms), when we rework our mental models or re-organize what we know (thanks to Katherine Bertolucci for pointing this out) we Reframe how we view the world. This learning process is the feedforward back to observation of results.

Type 3 is similar to Type 1 and 2 but Reflective Practice can involve only one person. Types 1-3 involve feedback or observation of results to improve knowledge and practice. A common variant of Type 3 is Learning from Doing, which happens largely semi-consciously. If you wish to learn more about Type 3, start by reading the book “The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action” by Donald A. Schon.

Type 4 is Presentation where A or B talks and the other listens, such as watching YouTube, listening to a lecture or reading a book. This type of learning is suited for learning concepts but not skills. Discussion occurs when participants take turns in presentation and then proceed to a mix of Type 1 and 2 learning, and oftentimes with Type 5 and 6 thrown in.

Type 5 is Criticism, Praise or Judgment where B — using his own knowledge, beliefs, interests or values — judges a statement or action of A. If A and B do not share the same knowledge, beliefs, interests or values, then A will defend himself based on his own knowledge, beliefs, interests or values. If A and B are co-equal in power, and neither will give up their own knowledge, beliefs, interests or values, or they are unable to shift their discourse towards Type 1-2 or Type 8-12, then the result is —

Type 6 is Debate. Learning can still happen through Type 5 and 6, but this learning is least likely to happen compared to other types. Unfortunately, when one or both of A and B strongly believes he is right, or avoids being proven wrong, or is unable to shift to Types 1-2 or 8-12, then each tries to convince/criticize the other but the other then digs in and defends himself, and the process can degenerate to an ugly downward spiral (I have seen this many times in one of the KM discussion lists). In a debate, the objective is no longer learning but winning, or proving the other person is wrong, or pushing for one’s pet theory or belief. In the end, people hardly learn or change their beliefs as a result of debate; and goodwill is often the casualty. It is unfortunate that many people allow themselves to be drawn into this inutile form of communication. This is common among people holding on to different religious and political beliefs, but I also see it among intelligent people holding on to different academic schools of thought. I wrote about Debate versus Discussion versus Dialogue in a previous blog post. If you want to learn more about the difference between debate, discussion and dialogue, start by reading the book “Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together” by William Isaacs.

Type 7 or Exemplar is when A through his actions and speech models, manifests, demonstrates or acts as exemplar of a knowledge, belief, interest or value such that B learns through observing A. This is the process that occurs during mentoring when the apprentice watches the mentor perform, and when a child watches her parents and teachers. The mentor initiates the learning process not through trying to convince but through demonstrating how certain actions produce desired results.

Type 8 is when A and B consciously and jointly review or revise their Mental Models, underlying assumptions or frameworks that sponsored or led to specific actions or statements. This is one of the five disciplines of a learning organization according to Peter Senge. Learning or changing one’s beliefs is more likely to happen by making our assumptions explicit and examining them together than by trying to convince, argue or attack another person (Types 5 and 6). If you have not read the landmark book “The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization” by Peter M. Senge then I suggest you do. John Naisbitt’s “Mind Set! Reset Your Thinking and See the Future” is entertaining to read. A prevalent variant of Type 8 is the unplanned or semi-conscious process whereby two or more people through conversations Reconstruct their shared view of social reality.

Type 9 is Conscious Living, where a person studies why he does what he keeps doing, reflects on his own assumptions and beliefs, and consciously manages how he thinks, perceives, interprets, values and makes daily life decisions. My NGO — the Center for Conscious Living Foundation — has been developing, practicing and teaching tools under this type of learning since 1999. Check our website for more information.

Type 10 is Storytelling and Story Listening, where B shares his experiences with A. If A is able to truly listen, or to listen while suspending his judgments and beliefs, he may understand or appreciate why B thinks and believes the way he does. Then A can discover new ways of looking at the same thing they are both looking at. Check out the book by KM gurus John Seely Brown, Stephen Denning, Katalina Groh, and Laurence Prusak: “Storytelling in Organizations: Why Storytelling Is Transforming 21st Century Organizations and Management.”

Type 11 is Insight or Intuition, when new ideas or thoughts emerge in one’s consciousness — through processes the thinker himself is not clear about — that can provide the basis for better action.

Type 12 or Generative Dialogue is the process where a group of people have reached a level of trust and skill in performing Types 8-11 such that they are able as a group to reflect and explore how and why they think, see and interact the way they do, consciously discover their limiting assumptions and biases, reframe a problem or issue, revise or improve their mental models, and generate new options or solutions. Learning is more likely in Types 8-12 than in Types 5-6 which are hampered by inability or unwillingness to reflect and to suspend judgment. I have written about Generative Dialog in a previous blog post. Besides Isaacs’ book mentioned above, check out also Adam Kahane’s “Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities.”

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6 Responses to “12 Types of Learning”

  1. Ranga Says:


    Good work

    i am interested to read all these approaches which are pillars for any framwork and design.

    But today most relevant is that how each one of us address reality and how much KM can be integrated as a part of the business process and what are its challenges

    What will be the Km blue print approach in recession times to show short term and long temr value

    Can you emai some good read of similar nature ( incuding this ) in doc file or pdf in ranga51@ayhoo.com

    Happy to be linked with you and send me an invite pl

  2. apintalisayon Says:

    Hello Ranga,

    When companies are cost-cutting, KM initiatives must be demand-driven to be cost-effective and to create value. KM can also support strategic decisions, e.g. reinventing/innovating business models.

    You can start with my blogs on:
    D7- Supply-driven versus demand-driven KM
    D8- Knowledge push versus knowledge pull
    D9- Strategic KM versus operational KM
    F6- “High-octane KM” is demand-driven KM
    (click on the links).


  3. Ganesh Manika Says:

    I think this article is very interesting and succinctly summaries all possible types of learning. I happened to observe from this article that there are three levels/categories of learning, namely basic, intermediate and advanced. It is important to note that I conceive these levels from a knowledge-seekers perspective.
    Here is how I view:

    1) Basic Level: Type 1, 3 and 7 fall in this category. Most of our learning that take place during our childhood is by comparing ourselves with others (type 1), learning from our mistakes/missteps (type 3) and by copying the parent (type 7). That’s why I think type 1, 3 and 7 are very basic type of learning. The children of age 0-6 are more likely to acquire their knowledge through these types and less likely to use intermediate or advanced level.

    2) Intermediate Level: When a child is ready take on the world, he/she chooses type -2 (Communal validation: Adhere to public/cultural requirement), type -4 and 10 (Presentation: Develop friends and exchange stories).

    3) Advanced Level: A child begins to learn using advanced level (5,6,8,9,11,and 12) only after mastering the basic and intermediate level.

    While I used a child development story to support my opinion, I think, these levels/categories of learning are applicable to any new knowledge-seeker in a domain. A new employee in an organization must begin his/her learning of the new environment using the types of learning in Basic category. He/she has to learn the organization’s culture (new environment) by looking at others and by copying their co-workers and boss. And so on to intermediate (exchanging ideas and opinions) and to advanced (brain storming etc) level to be part of the organization.

  4. apintalisayon Says:

    Excellent Ganesh!

    I intend to include this blog in a book I am writing. Can I quote you there, and of course acknowledge or credit you as the source?

  5. Ganesh Manika Says:

    No problem, You can quote..Thank you.

  6. Geoffrey Gustin Says:

    Wow. Who are you? I just discovered your blog because you had cited Ken Wilber and I have been studying his work….instantly seeing your blog I decided it was great. With more time to study, I will decide again. Thanks.

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