Learning is the process through which our bodies and brains grow, change, and adapt to opportunities and challenges. Witness a baby learning to walk, a child learning to talk, an adolescent learning to drive, or an adult learning a new skill for work or pleasure. We all learn and will continue to learn as long as we live.

But just what is learning, and how do we optimize our approaches, our networks, and our focus, so that we learn most effectively?

There are three key ingredients to effective learning – the right kind of motivation, networks of support, and effective practice.

Firstly, there needs to be motivation. A baby witnessing the adults and other humans in its vicinity can see that they are moving, walking, and talking. Baby wants to join in and does, rewarded with attention and praise. These external factors are important, but they are mere pre-cursors to the real rocket fuel of learning – intrinsic motivation.

A baby learning to walk, or a determined young athlete, or a hungry young professional, will power through challenges and overcome obstacles provided they are sufficiently motivated by an inner drive, a hunger to achieve, a need for success, or a thirst for growth. And do you know what the greatest motivation is?

Is it rewards? Perhaps it is praise. Or maybe, recognition, such as applause, medals, certificates, or degrees?

While these things are helpful and may, at times, provide a much-needed start or boost of encouragement, the research shows time and again that the greatest, most significant motivation is awakened through progress.

In other words, when you build competence, that is, knowledge and skill, you grow in confidence. They are the two ‘legs’ of learning. Internal or intrinsic motivation fanned into flame by the progress that is recognizable by the one making such progress, drives deep learning.

Yet, the rocket fuel of motivation needs key factors to ensure the learning rocketship doesn’t take a wrong turn, blow up midair, or end up as space debris. Like a successful satellite launch, one person’ s learning journey requires mission control and a team of support.

More often than not, especially in the formative years of childhood and young adulthood, this includes parental, school, or other in-kind people. Tiger Woods and Mozart were coached by their fathers from toddlerhood, as young as age 2 or 3.

Look into the major success stories and you’ll find a parent, coach, mentor, or teacher in the wings. Long term learning success is assured through a team who form a ‘learning ecosystem. Here is not the place to go into further details about ‘talent hotbeds’ or hierarchies of talent growth,’ such as those mentioned by Daniel Coyle in ‘The Talent Code’ – suffice to say that these are, at the heart of it, extensions of the talent and learning support network as worked out in certain times and places.

Given sustained motivation and a robust support network, there is one more ingredient that contributes to effective learning.

Most of us have heard the well-worn phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ but few have paused long enough to consider just what kind of practice makes perfect – or indeed how, when, where, and importantly, why certain ways and methods of practice work better than others. 10,000 hours is often quoted as quantitative measure of how much practice is required, but in the next article on effective learning I’ll unpack the kind of practice that has proven most effective, time and again, over hundreds of years of experience, scientific studies, and the witness of everyone from composers J. S. Bach and Mozart, to sportspeople the world over, to geniuses like Einstein, Da Vinci, and Shakespeare.

Regular, deliberate, and varied practice is the engine that drives learning – no matter whether you’re learning to throw a ball, play the piano, deliver presentations, or upgrade your EQ.

What will you practice today? Who is in your support network? What drives you to learn?

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