Fundamental attribution error — a micro-VCoL starter set from Lectica

Theo Dawson
6 min readFeb 9, 2020


I’ve written quite a bit about micro-VCoLing™ and its many benefits. In this article, I describe a set of micro-VCoLs that my colleagues and I use to introduce people to micro-VCoLing. It’s one of our “micro-VCoL™ starter sets.” (I know, so creative!) This starter set includes micro-VCoLs designed to foster situation awareness, skill awareness, and skill emulation. It’s designed to help people learn how to micro-VCoL to get the most out of everyday learning opportunities. It also happens to build skills for avoiding fundamental attribution error.

Starter sets are the best way to habituate micro-VCoLing because they:

  • closely mimic the brain’s natural micro-learning cycle, which (re)activates the brains’ motivational system for learning,
  • focus on the most fundamental VCoLing skills—skills used in all VCoLing, and
  • are stripped down to the essentials to reduce what curriculum developers call cognitive load, so practitioners can focus on the basics.

Essentially, the micro-VCoL starter set is designed to develop the most basic micro-VCoLing skills and to begin the process of turning micro-VCoLing into a lifelong habit. A starter set is usually made up of at least two awareness micro-VCoLs and one emulation micro-VCoL. Each successive micro-VCoL in a set provides the opportunity to practice a new micro-VCoLing skill.

The awareness micro-VCoLs

As of this writing, there are two kinds of awareness micro-VCoLs — the situation-awareness micro-VCoL and the skill-awareness micro-VCoL. These VCoLs typically make up the first two VCoLs in a micro-VCoL starter set and are followed by an emulation micro-VCoL. The starter set introduced here delivers situation-awareness, skill-awareness, and emulation micro-VCoLs, in this order.

Awareness micro-VCoLs are almost absurdly simple, but after a lifetime of learning for correctness, some individuals initially find them difficult. If you find it challenging to work with your first micro-VCoL, there are a few things you can try:

  • Ask yourself, “am I having any negative feelings around this VCoL?” Once you have identified an emotion, see if you can figure out what’s triggering it. That’s often all it takes to put a micro-VCoL in its rightful place as an innocent little learning tool.
  • Keep it simple. Some people initially have a tendency to make micro-VCoLing more complicated than it actually is. If you suspect that you may be complexifying your micro-VCoL, check in with your coach or instructor.
  • Check-in with yourself to make sure you aren’t turning an awareness micro-VCoL into a self-criticism exercise. If you think this may be happening, check out my article about the active observer. If the problem persists, you may want to seek professional help.

The awareness micro-VCoLing process may initially seem formal and rigid, but once it becomes a habit, the process becomes increasingly flexible and adaptive. You will learn to micro-VCoL faster and better if you closely follow the instructions in the micro-VCoL you are practicing.

Effective micro-VCoLing requires that we allow a corner of our minds to stand back to observe ourselves and others as we go about our daily activities. We call this the active observer. To learn more, see the article, VCoL in action: The active observer.

Situation awareness micro-VCoL

We often begin a VCoL set with situation-awareness because it’s the most fundamental VCoLing skill—one that you’ll use every time you work any VCoL. Why? Because before we begin the process of building a new skill or fine-tuning an existing skill, we need to be able to quickly recognize opportunities for practicing that skill.

AS 1 Fundamental attribution error

Skill awareness

Once we are aware of opportunities to practice a skill, it is useful to observe how people engage the skill. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, understanding the environment in which we are building a skill provides an enormous amount of useful information. We can learn about:

  • the variety of skills apparent in our environment,
  • where we think we fit in that variety, and
  • whether or not there are individuals whose skills we admire — individuals we can emulate or recruit as mentors.

Second, when we tune in to how people are practicing a skill, we expand our understanding of that skill. Even if what we learn is that the skill we’re engaging is uncommon or there is no one whose virtuosity we admire, what we learn will help us move forward.

AS 2 Fundamental attribution error

Skills for avoiding Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE)

Here is a list of skills for avoiding FAE that you might want to keep handy when practicing this micro-VCoL. As you will see, some of these skills are observable and some are not.

  • Skills for identifying causes beyond the individual—such as asking about or investigating the situation surrounding an outcome or behavior, or seeking out conditions, rules, policies, or standard practices that may have contributed to a behavior or outcome (partially observable)
  • Skills for identifying and questioning personal assumptions (partially observable)
  • Skills for identifying and questioning knee-jerk judgments (partially observable)
  • Skills for reacting non-judgmentally (partially observable)
  • Skills for recognizing one’s own FAE triggers (not observable)
  • Skills for avoiding labeling (not observable)

Emulation micro-VCoLs

As noted above, the third VCoL in a micro-VCoL starter set is called an emulation VCoL. Emulation VCoLs allow us to leverage skills displayed by individuals or groups in our environment—by putting our mirror neurons to work.

People tend to admire skills that are just beyond their reach. Admiration motivates learning because it acts as a very effective dopamine trigger. Examples are easy to find in early childhood. For instance, when my second child, Chenoa, was three-years-old, she admired her older sister so much that she was willing to work extraordinarily hard to learn many things she saw her older sister, Jessica, do. Jessica was 6, three years older than Chenoa. But despite the age difference, Chenoa learned to ride a bike, tie her shoes, and ice skate alongside her older sister. Interestingly, Chenoa chose to copy her sister’s behavior only in skill areas in which she had natural talents. She didn’t even try to emulate her sister’s extraordinary language and social skills.

Chenoa chose to emulate skills that were in her Goldilocks Zone, and she started building those skills by mirroring them. She was a copy-cat, but only briefly. Soon after she first attempted to copy a skill, she had gathered enough information about her own level of skill to calibrate her efforts to her own current capabilities.

Identifying admired behaviors in our environment, then attempting to emulate them, is often enough to take our skills to the next level. It is also a good way to identify the Goldilocks Zone. The skills we admire and can practice with a degree of success are usually “in the Zone.”

If you’re concerned that you might choose to emulate sub-optimal behavior, you’re onto something — but you shouldn’t be too concerned. In essence, we’re all practicing sub-optimal skills because, when it comes to skills, there is always more to learn. We trust that learners who micro-VCoL habitually will continuously discover the shortcomings of their current skills and be motivated to refine them further.

AS 3 Fundamental attribution error

Summing up

Situation, skill, and emulation micro-VCoLs help individuals build the most basic micro-VCoLing skills, setting the stage for the eventual habituation of VCoLing as a lifelong practice.

If you would like to become a highly efficient and joyful lifelong learner, Lectica’s course, ViP, is the best place to start.

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.