The 3 Forms of Learning & Why You Won’t Want to Ignore Any of Them

Written by on June 8, 2009 in Basics Of Self Education - 13 Comments

3-types-of-learningThere 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.

13 Comments on "The 3 Forms of Learning & Why You Won’t Want to Ignore Any of Them"

  1. Prometeo June 9, 2009 at 7:42 am · Reply

    I have to admit that I give emphasis to niche learning, maybe too much. I’ll try to make a balance.

    Good article. Keep up the good work.

  2. Nicole June 9, 2009 at 4:35 pm · Reply

    I am totally a niche learner at heart, but have been trying to expand my horizons.

    Jamie, this blog has been such a joy for me to follow. I decide to become a self-learner seriously a couple years ago, and came across your blog just last year. It is absolutely fantastic! I feel so good that there is someone out there that is willing to take the time, gather resources and create a community of like-minded people.

    Kudos, you’re great!

  3. Collien June 9, 2009 at 7:55 pm · Reply

    I follow the liberal and have such a wide knowledge of so many things that I don’t know much of anything! I guess you’d call me a “Jacque of all trades”! It does pay off sometimes and gives me insight that others in my chosen field would have never thought of!

    I’m learning a lot from your site… I have you marked as my home page so I don’t forget to read you every day! Thanx!

  4. Savant June 9, 2009 at 9:52 pm · Reply

    Jamie you have done it once again, I know that I am part of a revolution just by visiting your site everyday. Jamie your fingers/brain are on fire literally. Enough said!!!!

  5. Jamie June 10, 2009 at 10:24 am · Reply

    Thanks for your kind comments Prometeo, Nicole, Collien, and Savant. I love to see how different people are attracted to different forms of learning. Interestingly, we haven’t heard from anyone who is primarily drawn to skill development. Perhaps this is reflective of society in general or perhaps its just an indication of the type of people who read this blog.

    Or maybe skill-development people tend to be lurkers…Anyone want to speak up?

  6. Brian June 16, 2009 at 8:54 am · Reply

    I think it is just easier to be a niche learning, because skill development takes time and effort and isn’t as exciting as learning new knowledge.

    I admit, I too suffer from this, but I am working on developing a variety of skills. Web Design, lockpicking, dance, hypnosis, beer brewing, and submission grappling.

  7. Savant June 17, 2009 at 8:31 am · Reply

    Hey Jamie I am always working on my skills in the computer field but it’s to risky mentioning it here. I am a self learner from the Cyber underworld if you know what I mean. :)

  8. Anna Storer June 19, 2009 at 3:24 pm · Reply

    This is an excellent piece of work,especially beneficial to those who have problems with the learning process. I would like to add a 4th component to this article – Memory or the art of remembering. I was taught that the best way is in this method.
    1 – write (taking notes)
    2 – see (visual), seeing what you write
    3 – hear (reading out loud what you have written)
    Combining these three elements helps you to remember. Most people tend to forget quickly the information they need when they need it most., eg. exams.

  9. Savant June 22, 2009 at 12:27 am · Reply

    Excellent point Anna !!!

  10. Julian July 12, 2009 at 1:26 pm · Reply

    Also, what about street smarts? About social skills, personal development, wisdom? These surely cannot be neglected.

  11. Dom DeRose February 13, 2010 at 4:38 pm · Reply

    This is a fantastic article and an even better website, I just found it by using stumbleupon 2 days ago. Thank you so much, please keep this site up for the next 20 years, I need it.

  12. Learning a Language October 12, 2010 at 3:24 am · Reply

    Thank you for posting the “The 3 Forms of Learning & Why You Won’t Want to Ignore Any of Them”.

    I must say this post helped me understand the process of learning and makes me realize that before learning something we should have a little information so that it would be more interesting

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