• Jon Robbins

Three Principles for Effective Learning


When we want to make a difference in the world, we’re concerning ourselves with a change in behaviour.

As the inspiring Rich Jacobs of mindset and behaviour-change specialists, Yes and author of The 7 Questions to Find Your Purpose helped me realise,

“Your gifts are your gifts not because they were given to you, but because it is your responsibility to share them with others.”

This is the crucial step to creating a culture of learning. So in that spirit, here are some things which I have found helpful. Let’s consider these principles that guide effective behaviour change:

1. The aim of learning is to improve performance by solving a pressing problem.

Learning - when we think or do something new - happens when there is an imperative to do so, such as when there’s a problem that needs solving. If it’s imposed or foisted (“You need to…” / “We want our managers to…”) the chances of the initiative succeeding diminish. If it’s discovered and desired (“I want to…”) there is a greater chance of making a difference.

And while we’re about it, there is no such thing as a ‘learning provider’. Learning is what happens when people are motivated and care about something. So instead, we work collaboratively to articulate the business need. And if the pressing problem isn’t recognised as such, we help them discover it. A consultative approach, therefore, is paramount to understand what matters.

Problems, of course, come in different shapes and sizes. What combination of skills, knowledge, mindset, behaviour, is it? That’s why we identify the nature and scale of the problem first.

Before throwing training at a problem, what other things just might do the job?

For a wealth of practical and relevant ideas, look up the superbly helpful Krystyna Gadd and her book, How Not To Waste Your Money on Training.

Courses ~ Are we setting ourselves up for a fall?

2. Think of change as a process not an event.

One pill does not constitute a course of medicine; a hurdle is not a racecourse. And in the same way, a single piece of learning is not a course. A course implies a journey, going from A to B. It happens over time.

Viewing learning as a journey changes how we approach problem-solving, shifting the emphasis away from content onto outcome. Ask, "Do we want ‘learning’ or do we want to make a difference?"

Inspiring leadership specialist and behaviour change expert, Carol Carpenter, observes how, all too often, we jump to imposing a solution: ‘See problem? - Fix problem!’ and end up wondering why the changes we seek don’t stick.

When managing change, improving performance or designing learning, we can follow the process that reflects the psychology of change:

We have to, first of all

a) Identify the problem

before we can

b) Care about the problem.

before we can

c) Discover our own creative solutions to the problem.


d) Commit to doing things differently

in order to

e) Sustain the change.

Wants and Needs

What the client asks for might not be what they need. They might want a fix (training).

Without this understanding (to paraphrase the consistently-insightful Nick Shackleton-Jones, author of How People Learn, speaking in a podcast): let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that the training is much more than a jolly day out of the office:

What the client might need, however, is to experience a change (a collaborative programme).

So, instead, we craft an adaptable plan that facilitates experience and discovery, made up of smaller pieces. The process resembles a ramp:

3. Enable moments of discovery through an emotionally-connected experience.

Learning has the greatest impact when the experience is enjoyable, interesting, social, different, creative, or moving.

Given that a fostering a culture of learning massively increases performance and that we learn best when we feel good about ourselves, it would make sense to prioritise employees’ long-term fulfilment. Be sure to check out the uplifting work that Henry Stewart is doing with his amazing company, Happy.

What does this one word mean to your work?


We might say we’re learning all the time. But we are inspired when it creates a reaction in us, a feeling.

Enriching the quality of experience means that people reveal for themselves why something is relevant, and it’s particularly useful for creating concern where there was none before, stimulating the urgency, the imperative to do things differently.

Don't confuse your experience of the 'Education Industry' with 'Learning'.

Despite efforts to make learning more interactive, if the quality of experience amounts to doing what we always do - staring at a screen (as we’re doing now), what should we expect other than a disconnection between knowledge and behaviour?

Here’s a tip: When putting together a programme or planning a facilitated session, always think, ‘What are people actually actively doing at every moment?’ Wherever the answer is a passive state: sitting, reading, listening, thinking, looking at… make it active, allowing people to: describe, question, interrogate, draw-up, identify, present, perform, critique, solve, demonstrate, experiment, diagnose, plan, build, create, design, evaluate, measure, conclude…How will you transform information into experience, giving space for moments of discovery through experimenting and doing?***So let’s experiment with these three principles:

1. The aim of learning is to improve performance by solving a pressing problem.

2. Think of change as a process not an event.

3. Enable moments of discovery through emotionally-connected experiences.

And experience how they are crucial components in creating a culture of learning.

Go well; be glorious!


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss leadership, learning and cultural change, or would like some outside, impartial perspective on workplace challenges you are facing at the

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