There are three kinds of learning essential for success in just about any field: niche knowledge, skill development, and liberal understanding. Unfortunately, most people focus their energies on just one or two types of learning – whatever comes most naturally. By neglecting the forms of learning that feel less familiar, they hinder their progress.
By familiarizing yourself with the three forms of learning, you’ll be able to recognize your strengths and find areas where more focus is needed. If you want to truly excel in your field, you need to learn how to balance the three forms.
Niche Knowledge (Information)
Niche knowledge is the acquisition of information about a particular subject. A writer knows about grammar rules and the plot lines. A long distance runner knows about pace and average running times. A business negotiator knows about contract law and company history.
Niche knowledge is often gained through reading. The more someone reads about a subject in books or on the internet, the more information they carry with them. People with a lot of niche knowledge may share that information as “experts” in a business or school setting. Most English professors, for example, teach about literature but do not actually write literature themselves.
Skill Development (Ability)
Skill development is learning that results in ability / action. A writer becomes capable of creating a compelling article, a distance runner is able to complete a marathon, and a negotiator is able to work with his clients to complete a successful merger.
Whether your work is focused on your hands or your mind, the ability to do something with information is important. In some cases, skill development is directly related to an academic or career endeavor (the ability to summarize journal articles or the ability to lay brick). In other cases, the ability to do something is simply a result of living independently (i.e. the ability to fix your car, cook a meal, or grow a garden). See Also: The Joy of Practical Learning…What Can You DO?
Liberal Understanding (Comprehension)
Developing a liberal understanding (i.e. a classical education) is what ties you to the larger world. Although it may not seem that a broad understanding of history, literature, and other “big question” subjects would be helpful in all cases, this type of learning can actually give you the greatest insight.
Through cultivating liberal understanding, the writer recognizes the literary tools used by the great authors that came before him, the runner begins to explore the psychology of the game, and the negotiator develops a deeper comprehension of the timeless forces that motivate people towards action.
Liberal learning also helps people make cross-disciplinary connections. Learn deeply about a subject that seems unrelated to your niche and you may soon find yourself with insight that could never have been gained by keeping your eyes glued to a single, narrow field.
At the Top of Your Game
Are you giving appropriate attention to each of these categories? Many people choose their favorite and leave the others out (I lean towards liberal understanding and can be easily tempted to avoid skill development).
You may need to put more time into one category, depending upon the subject you’re studying. However, to achieve mastery in any subject (be it painting or public speaking), you won’t want to ignore any of the three forms of learning.