VCoL in action: The many benefits of micro-VCoLing

Theo Dawson
4 min readJan 21, 2020

Micro-VCoLing™ is the best way to build real-world knowledge and skills. It’s easy, fun, efficient, effective, low risk, and impactful.

Micro-VCoLs are itty bitty, momentary, frequently repeated learning cycles that occur during everyday activities. They involve setting a learning goal, gathering information, applying information, and reflecting on outcomes (preferably with input from others). The focus is on the smaller skills (micro-skills) that make up complex sets of skills (mega-skills).

It’s easy

Micro-VCoLing is easy to learn because it plugs into the brain’s inborn learning system. In essence, we are all born micro-VCoLing. However, most of us unlearn it in school, where it is replaced with “learning skills,” so we need to relearn it as adults.

Fortunately, because the process of micro-VCoLing plugs into the brain’s inborn learning system, micro-VCoLing is not only easy to learn, it readily becomes a habit. And once it becomes a habit? Well, we’ve got a highly effective life-long learner on our hands.

It’s fun

Once adults have built micro-VCoLing skills, they report having more fun learning. This is because micro-VCoLing recruits the brain’s learning motivation system — the dopamine opioid cycle. This is the same cycle involved in flow, meditation, and addiction. Micro-VCoLing is fun because it stimulates curiosity, interest, flow, and our natural passion for learning.

It’s efficient

Micro-VCoLing is an efficient learning practice.

  • It’s quick. Micro-VCoLing happens on the fly during natural learning moments.
  • It’s always available. You can do it anytime without having to pull together special resources.
  • Finally, microVCoLing reduces learning effort by ensuring that we automate skills before building upon them. This increases learning efficiency because once skills are automated, we can build upon them without having to hold them in our conscious minds.

It’s effective

Micro VCoLing is a highly effective way to learn. It helps people learn faster and better. How does it do this?

  • Micro-VCoLing richly integrates new knowledge and skills into existing networks. Each new instance of micro-VCoLing either reinforces existing networks or creates new connections. These networks become the foundation for future learning.
  • The conscious reflection step of a micro-VCoL puts system 2 — the reasoning brain — in control of how events and information are remembered. This gradually reduces the influence of our inborn cognitive biases.

It’s low-risk

In conventional learning contexts, we generally learn about a broad skill, then immediately begin to practice it in real-world contexts. Under these conditions, people make mistakes — often big ones.

In contrast, micro-VCoLing focuses on micro-skills practiced in micro-moments. Learners practice each micro-skill until it becomes habituated, then go on to the next micro-skill. Under these conditions, big mistakes are rare.

Another way in which micro-VCoLing reduces risk is by allowing learners to determine how much of a stretch, in terms of learning challenge, they are comfortable taking on. This can be especially important for individuals who have very negative emotions around making mistakes or not understanding.

It’s impactful

Micro-VCoLing has both long-term and large-scale impacts.

  • Micro-VCoLing doesn’t just network knowledge, it also builds skills that make people increasingly effective in life and work. This is because the process of building skills—the repeating pattern of challenge, effort, failure, and success—gradually contributes to what we call an earned sense of competence. People who learn the way the brain likes to learn not only build skills more efficiently, they build evidence-based confidence in their own effectiveness. People who have an earned sense of competence are not only likely to be more hopeful and optimistic about the future than people who do not. They are also likely to be more effective in shaping that future.
  • As noted above, micro-VCoLing puts system 2 — the reasoning brain — in control of how events and information are remembered, thus combating cognitive biases. A side benefit of combating these biases is an educated system 1 (the fast unconscious brain)—one that produces increasingly robust intuitions. This makes for more effective and agile decision-making even under pressure of time or stress.
  • Finally, on an organizational level, micro-VCoLing can be a foundational component of a true learning culture when it prepares all members with essential skills for learning, doing, and interacting.
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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.