Reflections on what learning to learn mean 

by Christina Villefrance Moeller, TalesOfLeading

“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”

Gregory Bateson

We learn a lot of different things all through life. From infants imaging mothers smile, walking, reading, writing and how to behave among other people. Then isn’t learning to learn nonsense? However, the way we learn forms a pattern developed trough our experience and we tend to reproduce patterns we have experienced worked well. It is when this pattern no longer fit the situation we meet and the ways of dealing with these situations doesn’t work, we get frustrated. Maybe we stick to the method we already know, refine it, and try to do it better. If you still doesn’t get the expected result, it will be like banging your head against a wall. Maybe you will try out other methods randomly in desperation or consult others who might have a remedy for your aces. It is in these situations you can learn new learning patterns. 

Categories of learning

DSC_0026To sort out different kinds of learning Gregory Bateson categorized learning as followed*:

Zero learning is characterized by specificity of response, which – right or wrong – is not subject to correction.”

This means there are no learning, if you react randomly to a situation without conscious or unconscious reflection.

Learning I is change in specificity of response by correction of errors of choice within a set of alternatives.”

It could be that I get rewarded when I do the right thing and punished if I don’t do the right thing. It can be an instrumental pattern of learning you use for training a dog. If you as manager in one department experienced improved quality by doing 5S, you might use that method again if you are appointed another department with similar problems. Recognizing previously experienced problems in new settings is Learning I.

Learning II is change in the process of Learning I, e.g., a corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choice is made, or it is a change in how the sequence of experience is punctuated.”

Now you change your strategy for teaching yourself or others. Learning II is your improved ability to solve different problems in different contexts with different methods. This is learning to learn. But your learning is subjectively your own, build on your own experience. You might have learnt to use Lean methods to solve specific problems and recognize them in different contexts.

Learning III is change in the process of Learning II, e.g., a corrective change in the system of sets of alternatives from which choice is made.”

If Learning II is your accumulated subjective learning of solving problems in different contexts with various methods, then Learning III would be learning how people are learning to learn in different contexts with various methods. How can you motivate people to learning to learn and how can you create opportunities for learning? Consultants helping organizations implementing lean must have asked themselves this kind of questions.

Creating opportunities for learning

If I use the Gregory Bateson’s logic and assume learning is subjective, is it then possible to achieve a predictable outcome of a Lean implementation? What states of mind do you come through in the learning process? What happen when the context change so much that it becomes misleading if you use your known patterns of solving problems? Will you then blame the context (or other people creating the context) rather than considering your problem solving pattern?

It is actually also possible to reverse your patterns of learning in order to give way to new patterns of learning. In a context of implementing Lean in an organization, you might intend to correct the logic of Tayloristic thinking and replace it with the logic of Lean thinking. But if you force this change of logic though, wouldn’t that be brainwashing? Is that respectful? Even though learning is subjective it some of the learnings does happen in relation to each other. However, who is authorized teacher when it comes to how we think? Gregory Bateson also coined the Double Bind situation, I have commented on in a previous blog. How can we prevent that from happening?

These questions emerge for me when I use the lenses of Gregory Bateson’s categories of learning. As the initial quote indicate, I might have seen something else with other lenses. So be ware …

*Gregory Bateson: Steps to an Ecology of Mind, The University of Chicago Press (2000) p. 293

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