Truths about learning (with one caveat)

Theo Dawson
4 min readMay 4, 2024


During 2023–2024, Lectica (the nonprofit that owns me) convened a special edition of FOLA, a graduate-level course focused on exploring the foundations of Lectica’s work. With our usual unrealistic optimism, we dubbed it the “Year of Developmental Delight.” Fortunately, our optimism was richly rewarded.

A month before the final session of FOLA, I asked participants what they would like me to bring to our meeting. They requested two things: (1) an enriched timeline representing our foundations and work to date, and (2) a list of the things that, based on the evidence and our expertise, Lectica would be willing to claim as truths. I offer only one caveat. As usual, we claim the right to change our minds if new evidence demands it.

Truths about learning

  1. The human mind is equipped with mechanisms that automatically optimize learning in childhood. These mechanisms work most effectively in human-normal environments.
  2. These mechanisms are recruited any time a child actively engages the environment (physical or social).
  3. These mechanisms support a learning process that involves all aspects of the body-mind—deliberative, sensory, kinesthetic, affective, etc.
  4. Throughout life, learning through active engagement (practice) is essential for optimal development.
  5. Leveraging our built-in learning mechanisms with conscious purpose helps us learn more efficiently.
  6. VCoLing—a process and set of skills for learning in real-time—leverages these mechanisms.
  7. VCoLing builds skill. Skills can only be built through conscious or unconscious VCoLing.
  8. Almost all of the learning models & tools developed during the last century or so were essentially VCoLs.
  9. Learning to VCoL gets learners back in touch with their built-in mechanisms for detecting “what’s next.”
  10. VCoLing makes it possible for the learner to influence how new knowledge and experiences get networked into the brain.
  11. VCoLing leads to “sticky” knowledge—the kind that sticks around and can be built upon.
  12. VCoLing allows us to reset certain mental defaults (cognitive biases) that aren’t useful in our complex world. There is currently no other way to reset these defaults.
  13. VCoLing develops minds that deliver dependable intuitions, including the “feeling of necessity” that accompanies understanding.
  14. VCoLing develops learners who can steer their own learning.
  15. VCoLers develop faster and further than non-VCoLers.
  16. VCoLing is a safe learning modality for people who suffer from learning trauma.
  17. VCoLing keeps people in the Goldilocks zone — where the challenge is just great enough.
  18. Learning in the Goldilocks Zone generates a sense of flow.
  19. This is because VCoLing engages our built-in learning mechanisms in a way that supports flow.
  20. Learning is way more fun for learners who are in flow.
  21. VCoLers have more fun than non-VCoLers because they are in the Zone more of the time.
  22. Lots of VCoLing (conscious or unconscious) is necessary for the development of an earned sense of competence, which increases people’s ability to operate effectively in a challenge-filled world.
  23. People who have an earned sense of competence are more likely to be hopeful, even in difficult times.
  24. VCoLing develops minds that are robust, agile, and adaptable.
  25. Lectical Assessments support learning by supporting VCoLing.
  26. Helping learners (re)connect with and learn to leverage their inborn learning mechanisms is the most important thing we can do for them.
  27. Learning is more robust when we apply knowledge, so curricula should be designed around the skills required to work with knowledge rather than the content itself.
  28. Education should be designed around VCoLing.
  29. Math, language, reading, writing, reasoning, experimentation, discourse, intrapersonal, interpersonal, artistic, and VCoLing skills should all be learned while practicing in real-world contexts, starting with more physical contexts in childhood and continuing in increasingly abstract contexts through adolescence and adulthood.
  30. Employees are most engaged, satisfied, and productive when building skills in the Goldilocks Zone.
  31. Most of the time, role demands should be in the Goldilocks zone.
  32. Technology has increasingly removed opportunities for humans to build meaningful skills. AI is accelerating this process. Unfortunately, if humans—especially infants and children—don’t practice a wide range of skills in a variety of domains, their minds won’t develop optimally. By removing the need for human skill, we are literally preventing humans from developing healthy minds. That can’t be good. We need to figure out what to do about it.

Summing up

You won’t be surprised to hear that I think these 32 truths, taken together, provide a compelling case for rethinking learning in any context. They also provide guidance for action and invention. I hope you are inspired to act.

The FOLA is available as a self-guided course. The current version of the self-guided FOLA includes all of the thought-provoking panel discussions from our Year of Developmental Delight.

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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.