3 misconceptions about learning and performing

Evie Schellens

Do you remember what’s the capital of Belarus and how much litre go into a cubic decimetre? Which twelve countries were again involved in the introduction of the euro in 2012?  If you can answer all these questions correctly your general knowledge is in good shape, bravo!

These facts were about theoretical knowledge, but it’s the same for skills. Nobody will have good sales conversations when they don’t apply what they’ve learned in their training. Leadership qualities won’t develop in a set period of time. Moreover, there will always be new insights you should consider in order to offer a valid current learning process.  


#1 Performing isn’t the same as learning

It may sound a little odd, but learning isn’t a logical follow-up of performing. Performing is mainly aimed at fast results in a short time, while when talking about learning it concerns the effect on the long term and in new situations. A pit hole that occurs often is that the focal point of the learning content is on the present and little time is spend on the durability of this. 

When you combine all the exercises of one topic at one moment, someone quickly gains the illusion of competence: I quickly progress and I feel comfortable practicing, so I’m performing! It might be true, but when you stop offering this knowledge or skill for a period of time, this will soon be forgotten and the performances will decline as well. Forgetting plays an important role in this. 

#2 Repetition doesn’t always work 

We can slow down the speed of our forgetting process by practicing more often and on a more difficult level. You want to confront someone with their own ‘forgetting’ in this way: you must think a little harder to achieve the same. This way you train your memory, the saved knowledge and you enlarge the chance on success on the long term. The model of the curve of forgetting argues in favour of spreading of the learning moments across a longer period of time with much repetition. Don’t wait too long, the graph shows that the first repetition moments favourably already take place in the first week. There’s a potential danger in these confrontations. Someone needs to have the right prior knowledge and skills to attack the forgetting. When this isn’t present, it will work the other way around. The cognitive load will be too much and it will feel as if you’ve failed. 

#3 Trying alone isn’t enough

Another misconception that must be named is that trying alone isn’t enough to learn (and perform). Often effort and ‘trying’ are praised in the wrong way: “You did try!”, “Your effort was great!” This can demotivate someone or even make them lazy. The problem is that putting more time and energy into something isn’t per definition better. 

We can discern 4 kinds of effort:

  • Low effort – the task is simple, the amount of mistakes is null and skills or knowledge aren’t needed to complete the task. You aren’t challenged and you don’t enter a learning stretch zone so no growth takes place. 
  • Ineffective effort – this is a hard task (above of your achieving level), because there’s no knowledge or good use of obtained skills, the amount of mistakes is high and the task won’t be fulfilled successfully. The consequence will be that one states it’s impossible and they want to return to the learning comfort zone. 
  • Performance effort – you perform on your highest level possible and you can make good use of your knowledge and skills, but the task is familiar to you and easy. You have learned from your mistakes before and now you master the task. No growth takes place, you don’t become better at it. 
  • Effective effort – this concerns a difficult task that’s above your achieving level. Of course you’ll make much mistakes, but because you use your knowledge and skills effectively you stretch your learning capacity and growth will take place. 

Keep in mind you don’t always have to be in the area of effective effort. Sometimes it’s great to make a performance effort or to get through the day on low effort. Do you really want to grow and become better at something? You must then do something more than just put energy and time in it. Making many hours, without practicing aimfully or processing feedback, won’t take you any further. You must ask yourself again and again: what do I need to do to become better?