How to learn optimally

Learning optimally is about learning the way the brain likes to learn—through reflective embodied practice—so that what we learn is continuously and deeply networked into our brains and behavior.

  1. awareness of self, others, and the environment,
  2. skills for making connections between ideas, information, emotions, perspectives, and evidence,
  3. skills for seeking and evaluating information, evidence, and perspectives,
  4. skills for applying what we know in real-world contexts,
  5. reflectivity — a cultivated habit of reflecting on outcomes, information, emotions, or events,
  6. skills for seeking and making use of feedback, and
  7. awareness of cognitive and behavioral biases and skills for avoiding them.

The +7 skills

1 — Self and other awareness

  • observing and documenting thoughts, feelings, or behavior
  • self-evaluation
  • practicing non-judgmental openness to experience
  • meditation
  • mindfulness in everyday life
  • somatic practices, like yoga
  • coherence practices, like HeartMath

2 — Making connections

  • brainstorming
  • Minto Pyramid problem solving
  • polarity thinking (or both / and thinking)
  • mind mapping
  • causal loop diagramming (or other systems mapping approaches)
  • building relational databases
  • active listening
  • deep listening (Kramer)
  • seeking clarification
  • “library” research
  • critical thinking
  • action inquiry (particularly second-person action inquiry)
  • the scientific method

4 — Applying knowledge

  • action learning
  • project-based learning
  • developing action plans or development plans
  • rehearsing — reducing risk by trying out new knowledge in hypothetical situations
  • writing or critical discourse — using new knowledge to improve an argument or message

5 — Reflectivity

  • making sure that learning goals are “just right”
  • embedding learning in real life, as a part of everyday activities
  • not punishing learners for making mistakes — helping them see mistakes as a source of useful information
  • ensuring that every learning cycle, no matter how small, ends with goal setting

6 — Seeking feedback

  • openness to feedback
  • awareness of your own defensiveness
  • feedback seeking skills (like helping others feel comfortable providing you with feedback)
  • skills for evaluating and incorporating feedback
  • second-person action inquiry
  • participation in focus groups
  • customer or employee surveys

7 — Coping with cognitive and behavioral biases

  • cultivating humility — recognizing the ubiquity of human fallibility
  • building critical thinking skills
  • regularly seeking feedback
  • tackling common cognitive biases, one at a time (e.g., conservation bias, bandwagon effect, stereotyping, or attribution bias)

To support optimal learning with VCoL

  1. Determine the current level of a learner’s knowledge and skills.
  2. Find out what they are most interested in learning.
  3. Help them select learning goals that are in their Goldilocks Zone (the range in which a learning task is just challenging enough to support optimal learning).
  4. Show them how to achieve these goals with everyday VCoLing (especially micro-VCoLing).
  5. Embed at least one +7 skill in every VCoL.
  6. Understand that robust learning takes time (and benefits greatly from an environment in which ongoing learning, application, and reflection are actively supported).
ViP info | ViP rationale



Award-winning educator, scholar, & consultant, Dr. Theo Dawson, discusses a wide range of topics related to learning and development.

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Theo Dawson

Award-winning educator, scholar, & consultant, Dr. Theo Dawson, discusses a wide range of topics related to learning and development.