How do we learn ?



I don’t know what I don’t know. [1]

This is the state of mind in which I car­ry out all the research that contri­butes to the wri­ting of this blog. More broad­ly, it is a dis­po­si­tion of being which, in my opi­nion, can only help us to pro­gress in life.

Learning is the pro­cess by which com­plexi­ty and conscious­ness grow in the uni­verse. And we are part of that pro­cess ! From human cog­ni­tion to uni­ver­sal scale, I explore dif­ferent facets of lear­ning in this article, par­ti­cu­lar­ly the role of the uncons­cious. So if you want to learn how to learn, fol­low me !


The interest of a disturbed cognition


In 2016, Jason M. Lodge and Gregor Kennedy [2] wrote an article [3] on their stu­dy [4] of the lear­ning mecha­nisms. According to them, the state of men­tal confu­sion that can go with new lear­ning, and more gene­ral­ly a confron­ta­tion with infor­ma­tion that is new, com­plex, counter-intuitive or sim­ply contra­ry to our pre­vious know­ledge, is legi­ti­mate. It is even pre­fe­rable to a lack of cog­ni­tive dis­rup­tion, which, through over­con­fi­dence on the part of the lear­ner, could on the contra­ry be detri­men­tal to the acqui­si­tion of new knowledge.

Lodge and Kennedy point out that when it occurs, this cog­ni­tive impasse is often per­cei­ved as a lack of intel­li­gence, and then, can be expe­rien­ced as nega­tive. So much so that we can seek to avoid it. And so be temp­ted to be satis­fied with a simple expla­na­tion for com­plex ideas, or even to deli­be­ra­te­ly eli­mi­nate com­plexi­ty. Then this can lead us to appre­ciate smooth, flo­wing, attrac­tive and enter­tai­ning pre­sen­ta­tions, in which the infor­ma­tion seems easy to unders­tand because it seems consistent with our intui­tive concep­tions… or our mis­con­cep­tions. The trouble is that such pre­sen­ta­tions often come with an « infla­ted sense of what is real­ly being lear­ned. » [5]. So, accor­ding to them :


« If we don’t real­ly confront the concepts, they can­not be dealt with dee­ply enough to lead to sus­tai­nable lear­ning. » [6]


Refusing to dive into com­plexi­ty can lead us to believe that we unders­tand concepts when we do not. It is bet­ter to mea­sure our­selves against them, at one time or ano­ther. In this way we will be able to build our own opi­nion on the infor­ma­tion we come into contact with.


Towards sustainable learning

The stu­dy final­ly shows that we can bene­fit from our state of confu­sion. The key is to feel com­for­table with it, unders­tan­ding that it is sim­ply part of the lear­ning pro­cess. Being able to accept it means not let­ting it set­tle down. Neither are its two cor­re­lates : frus­tra­tion and bore­dom. Only then will we not give up lear­ning. And that, moreo­ver, we will be able to improve our stra­te­gies for unders­tan­ding the world.

My cog­ni­tion has been dis­rup­ted more than once in the course of my research. I have also modi­fied, rewrit­ten and even dele­ted many articles. I dived into concepts to sort out simple, sim­plis­tic, shor­te­ned, incor­rect, com­pli­ca­ted, com­plex infor­ma­tion… In short, I decons­truc­ted concepts, some­times with dif­fi­cul­ty, some­times with a cer­tain joy.

complex-conceptsThe com­plexi­ty does not neces­sa­ri­ly lie in the concept itself, although we may per­ceive it that way. Often, it is more about decons­truc­ting what is com­pli­ca­ted, the false sim­pli­ci­ty. simple-concepts Or what we know or think we know and hold on to for various rea­sons. And some­times, accep­ting this decons­truc­tion – pas­sing this miles­tone – reveals a new concept, which is ulti­ma­te­ly much sim­pler than the old one…

This is what hap­pens at the tip of the ice­berg, at the conscious level of lear­ning. But per­haps you want to unders­tand how sus­tai­nable lear­ning is actual­ly imple­men­ted ? Then it is neces­sa­ry to be inter­es­ted in the pro­cess that links conscious to uncons­cious. So fol­low me, and may cog­ni­tion be with us !


The right use of the unconscious

Taking a slight­ly broa­der view can make us rea­lize that conscious space does not ulti­ma­te­ly occu­py such a large part of the lear­ning pro­cess. But, of course, it is a sine qua non condi­tion for any learning !

The dia­gram below shows that infor­ma­tion emerges from the field of the uncons­cious and returns to it, after having been modi­fied by its pas­sage in the field of conscious­ness.  This pro­cess we go through when we learn new infor­ma­tion is a 4‑step process.


The 4 stages of learning

1. Unconscious incompetence

This is when « I don’t know that I don’t know ».


2. Conscious incompetence

There comes a time when « I know that I don’t know ». I become aware of a skill to be acqui­red. So this is also the moment when my cog­ni­tion can poten­tial­ly be dis­tur­bed ! To get past this stage, I sim­ply have to ack­now­ledge that « I don’t know », and agree to change the state of my cur­rent know­ledge. However, I must still believe that this infor­ma­tion comes from a reliable source and that it will be of bene­fit to me.


3. Conscious competence

This is where the real confron­ta­tion with concepts takes place ! I’m ente­ring the space of conscious effort. Ideally, I need to observe a per­son using the skill I am trying to acquire in an appro­priate man­ner. But, whe­ther or not obser­va­tion takes place, I must repeat the lear­ning until the way I use the skill becomes fluid and fast. In other words, until I’m com­for­table with this new skill.

This is what will condi­tion sus­tai­nable lear­ning, i.e. lear­ning that replaces old concepts. These last ones uncons­cious­ly for­ged my way of thin­king for a more or less long time. This will explain my pos­sible dif­fi­cul­ty in accep­ting change (and, in fact, the lon­ger I think about it, the more effort it will take).


4. Unconscious competence

At some point in the conscious pro­cess of sus­tai­nable lear­ning, the exe­cu­tion of the new skill becomes auto­ma­tic. Then it passes into the field of uncons­cious because I don’t have to think about it conscious­ly anymore.

This pro­cess should make us rea­lize that we have some uncons­cious thought pat­terns based on the skills we have acqui­red so far. Whether we per­form these skills the right way… or not.

And this pro­cess must also make us rea­lize that we can change our thought pat­terns.




Neuronal plasticity doesn’t do everything 

Learning results from the for­ma­tion of synap­tic connec­tions, which when wired as a stable pat­tern of neu­ral connec­tions become uncons­cious thought pat­terns. These connec­tions may be for­med, trans­for­med and undone with great flui­di­ty – so-called neu­ral plas­ti­ci­ty – but if we do not repeat the lear­ning of the new skills we wish to acquire, old neu­ral connec­tions, and the­re­fore old lear­ning, will still pre­do­mi­nate.

Looking only at the tip of the lear­ning ice­berg, one might think that the brain is constant­ly per­cei­ving and eva­lua­ting the world in new ways. But this should not make us for­get the sub­mer­ged (uncons­cious) part which is in fact the one real­ly at work.

And that under­wa­ter part could be… as big as the universe !


In rhythm with the universe !

Taking an even broa­der view allows us to put our own lear­ning pro­cess into pers­pec­tive with that of the uni­verse. Nassim Haramein’s uni­fied field theo­ry teaches us that the uni­verse learns through a feed­back loop bet­ween mat­ter and vacuum. That is to say : mat­ter learns from vacuum, and vacuum learns from mat­ter, through imme­diate and conti­nuous feedback.

Thus, this dyna­mic takes place at all scales, from the infi­ni­te­ly small to the infi­ni­te­ly large, inclu­ding the human scale. We could also say that the uni­verse learns through us. (see the article on quan­tum conscious­ness for more information).


Where do you place the cursor ?

I hope to have made the concepts pre­sen­ted on this blog acces­sible. If you do feel confu­sed when rea­ding cer­tain articles, if your cog­ni­tion is somew­hat dis­tur­bed, just know that you are sim­ply on the (right) path of a lear­ning pro­cess ! Then, feel free to place the cur­sor whe­re­ver you want.

But always keep in mind that you don’t know what you don’t know. And that the first infor­ma­tion pro­ces­sing cen­ter is the heart (see the article on quan­tum bio­lo­gy).



Key points

  • It is nor­mal and even desi­rable that lear­ning dis­rupts our cognition.

  • Sustainable lear­ning requires in-depth infor­ma­tion processing.

  • All lear­ning takes place in 4 stages, ran­ging from uncons­cious incom­pe­tence to uncons­cious competence.

  • The uni­verse learns through us, and in the same way we do, through feed­back loops.




Notes and references

[1] I bor­row this for­mu­la heard here and there, of which I am not the author.
[2] Jason M. Lodge is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Melbourne (Australia) and Gregor Kennedy is Vice-President of the University of Melbourne and Professor at the Centre for Higher Education Research.
[3] LODGE Jason & KENNEDY Gregor. (September 21, 2016). Confused ? Don’t wor­ry, you can use this to learn bet­ter. In : Slate
[4] LODGE Jason & KENNEDY Gregor. (2015). Prior know­ledge, confi­dence and unders­tan­ding in inter­ac­tive tuto­rials and simu­la­tions.
[5] LODGE Jason & KENNEDY Gregor. Confused ? Don’t wor­ry, you can use this to learn bet­ter, op.cit.
[6] Ibid.


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