VCoL in action: How to use micro-VCoLs to learn optimally on the fly

Theo Dawson
5 min readJul 7, 2019

Many adults find it difficult to carve out the time for a formal learning experience or private study. When they do, they often feel that the practical benefits are marginal. What’s needed is a way to learn effectively from everyday experience. This is the role of the mighty micro-VCoL.

See our growing collection of free good-in-a-crisis micro-VCoLs at LecticaLive.

Google “habits of highly successful people,” and it’s likely that habitual learning (from experience) will be high on just about every list. In fact, I would argue that many successful people not only learn habitually but also learn like babies and young children, driven by a fearless hunger that looks a lot like addiction. Consciously or unconsciously, they’re learning in a way that taps into the brain’s native motivational system (which just happens to be the same system that’s hijacked by social media, gaming, and addictive substances).

VCoL (the virtuous cycle of learning), is designed to optimize learning while leveraging this motivational system. It’s easiest to tap into this motivational system when VCoLs are small, focused, relevant, and habitual. We call VCoLs with these characteristics micro-VCoLs.

What is a micro-VCoL?

Micro-VCoLs are frequently iterated learning cycles that are embedded in everyday activities. Like any VCoL, they involve setting a learning goal, gathering information, applying information, and reflecting on outcomes (preferably with input from others). But in the case of the micro-VCoL, the focus is on the smaller skills (micro-skills) that make up complex sets of skills.

From macro to micro

Most skills can be broken down into increasingly granular component skills. At the most granular level are micro-skills. These are best learned through micro-VCoLing.

To illustrate, collaborative capacity—one of the VUCA skills targeted in Lectica’s LDMA—is actually a collection of macro-skills, including facilitation. Skills like facilitation are often made up of even more granular skills. For example, facilitation requires effective listening skills (mini-skills), which themselves can be further broken down into micro-skills, including but not limited to:

  • identifying opportunities for listening
  • giving others the opportunity to speak
  • opening yourself to alternate—possibly confronting—perspectives
  • truly listening
  • feeding back what you hear to get clarification (a.k.a. reflecting)
  • asking clarifying questions (a.k.a probing questions).

Micro-VCoLs are built around micro-skills. (I’ve included a couple of examples, below.)

Micro-VCoL varieties

There are two main varieties of micro-VCoL. The first is what we call an awareness VCoL. Awareness VCoLs are used either to increase awareness of opportunities to practice a skill or to identify individuals who are proficient in a given skill (potential exemplars or mentors).

Awareness is the most fundamental VCoLing skill. It’s used in every VCoL and it’s the first skill we teach in our ViP (VCoL in Practice) course—as part of a micro-VCoL starter set.

The micro-VCoL described below is designed to identify (1) instances of effective listening and (2) individuals who are effective listeners.

Active Listening article

The second type of micro-VCol is a practice VCoL. Practice VCoLs can be used to build virtuosity in any domain, including (but not limited to) self-awareness and personal growth, interpersonal relations, leadership, STEM, reasoning, athletics, the arts, problem-solving & decision-making, work-related skills, and maker skills. In other words, practice micro-VCoLs can be put to work just about anywhere.

The micro-VCoL described below is designed to build skills for demonstrating understanding. Link to the paraphrasing video.

How to Be a Better Listener: Paraphrasing video

Awareness VCoLs often precede practice VCoLs, since it’s difficult to practice a skill until we (1) can quickly identify opportunities for using it, and (2) have examples to emulate.

From micro to macro

After we have developed all of the micro-skills that contribute to the mini-skills that contribute to the macro-skill, we can continue polishing all of these skills with continuous habitual micro-VCoLing.

The advantages of micro-VCoLing

  1. Micro-VCoLs are minimally disruptive: They can be seamlessly integrated into everyday activities, often involving only a few minutes of information gathering or reflection each day.
  2. They simultaneously build knowledge and skill: The second step of VCoL—gathering information—is narrowly focused on the specific information required to build a particular micro-skill. For instance, the information gathering step of a micro-VCoL focused on listening might involve reading a short article by an expert or making a set of personal observations.
  3. They address the learning needs of the moment: Micro-VCoLs are always relevant because they are designed to build needed skills in context, as the need arises.
  4. They require action: Like all VCoLs, every micro-VCoL includes a step in which learners apply the skills and knowledge they have accumulated so far. Following each application, they reflect on outcomes, then use their insights to set the next learning goal. Over time, micro-VCoLers develop a bias for reflective action and iteration.
  5. They reduce learning risks: Micro-VCoLs are initially applied in low-stakes contexts, reducing the impact of mistakes made while building new skills. Once they have been developed to an acceptable level, these skills can be applied in higher risk contexts.
  6. They quickly become a habit of mind: Unlike the study skills we learned in school, VCoLs are designed to help us learn the way our brains like to learn. And because our brains like them, micro-VCoLs are habit-forming.
  7. They optimize in-the-moment learning, which not only increases current skill but also provides a solid foundation for future learning and accelerates the learning process.
Good-in-a-crisis micro-VCoLs
ViP info | ViP rationale
Theo Dawson

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