By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Confucius (551–479 BC)
Chinese Politician, Philosopher and Editor

Confucius’ lesson offers guidance on several aspects of the learning process. We should take these methods of learning into account for training and event formats.


Learning is a way to own freedom. New worlds open up and you leave old ones behind.
Learning is a way to own freedom. New worlds open up and you leave old ones behind.

Today we stand on the shoulders of giants. We base our thinking on the thoughts accumulated and developed over thousands of years. It also brings us to the question of what learning actually is: the formation of new connections between two neurons in our brain. So, the more neurons there are, the more connections can be built. The idea that old people learn less quickly than youngsters is in fact incorrect. Rather, they learn in a slightly different way: they have a greater number of connections and experiences to draw on. It is easier for them to recognize and dismiss and incorrect statement, while a youngster would repeat it without reflection. So, the more we know, the more we can learn and keep on learning.


…is not only the easiest form of learning, but also the most common. Learning by imitating someone else works better than words, better than any lecture or sermon. Nowadays, in the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), there is a great deal of discussion about the imitation of role models, called modelling. Who has inspired you and what is to be gained by imitating him or her? There is no shame in copying someone, it would just be a shame not to try to improve yourself. In fact, imitation is often the most efficient way of learning. So-called ‘mirror neurons’ make us mirror certain behaviours. We know this from our own day-to-day experience: if someone smiles at you, you smile back immediately. Guess how credible it is if parents who are smokers tell their children how bad smoking is? The consequence is: if you want to achieve a change in attitude or behaviour, be a role model yourself or show role models. This is also one of the reasons why we involve several moderators in our (TWL) workshops: our participants can pick something they like from each of them and start imitating or working on it.


is, quite simply, trial and error. It is a process that can lead to results over the course of centuries and even millennia. However, it is often not the most practical means of learning as it takes far longer and involves many failures before success is achieved. It is this expenditure of time and effort that should be kept in mind: excellence costs a great deal of both. In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell sought to explain how certain individuals developed expertise. The solution? Repetition, repetition, repetition. Usually, someone who has become world class in their field has spent at least 10,000 hours practicing. There is the story of the famous pianist who was asked by an enthusiastic fan after a concert, ‘How do you do it? I’d give up everything to play like you!’ The pianist replied, ‘I doubt it! You would not like to spend every day up to eight hours exercising.’ So, learning takes time. We should accept it and make time, or prioritise differently. Everything requires practice — whether physical training, learning a language, or developing your moderating skills.

Second, the trial and error method requires the acceptance of failure. Guess how many negative responses Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken received when, as a 60-year old man, he went from one restaurant to the next to sell his idea and recipe. 5? 50? 500? When would you have given up? He didn’t get his first yes until he has been rejected 1,056 times. Or imagine if a child gave up trying to stand and walk after failing twenty times. If that were the case, mankind wouldn’t walk through the streets so much as crawl. So don’t allow yourself to lose your motivation and, as a trainer, don’t demotivate others if their first attempt does not lead to immediate success. Get the curiosity and stubbornness of a child and you will succeed. In other terms it’s a question of attitude. If you or your workshop participants don’t have it you have to create it first before going to any content or skill.

You’ll find more on learning on the pages below or on Sources of Learning, Learn to Learn, Types of Learners, Learning Strategies, and Learning Plan.

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