Learning framework for solving problems/capturing opportunities

Edit: after writing this post I came across a Kwik Brain podcast episode featuring Tim Larkin on learning faster by slowing down that also divides learning into 3 stages.

Crawl: foundational phase, Walk: increase velocity, Run: full speed.

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1 – The simple stage requires the most guidance from experts to perform diagnostic tests and share insights on problems, what’s important to focus on, inspiration, fundamental skills and problem-solving prerequisites. An analogy is attaining fitness required to do a dance then learning one dance move then choreography to one song.

Questions at this stage include:

  • What problem are you currently best suited to solve?/What opportunity are you best suited to capture? (Focus is essential because some activities require your 100% capacity and creativity to perform at a satisfactory base level. Once decided on a problem, the initial stages need the most laser focus to learn fundamentals before your progress is transferable.)
  • Who are experts relevant to this problem/opportunity? (People focused on specific fields of study, in industry, affected by the problem e.t.c.)
  • What’s the best way to learn from the experts? (Books, interviews, online or in-person courses, apprenticeships e.t.c.)
  • What are the fundamental prerequisites required to solve this problem? (Vocabulary, procedures, resources e.t.c.)
  • How can you make the most of what you have then multiply it? (Location, relationships, skills, finances, health e.t.c.)

2 – The complicated stage requires an increase in collaboration with peers who would work well together and have a firm grasp of fundamentals. Having a firm grasp of fundamentals helps with speed, for example, avoiding misconceptions, quickly resolving them if they arise, and higher comprehension making the learning process faster. Peers are sometimes like pacemakers in the middle to long-distance running events. If they have the required running ability and work well with other athletes, then world records are set. But if they don’t, then its best they aren’t pacemakers. Working together works best in win-win games where the agents have the trust and incentives required for victory. Experts and peers help with perspective to i) avoid unnecessarily reinventing the wheel and ii) realize when there has been a change in conditions that enable and require innovations to emerge. An analogy is dance improvisation, where you know your dance partner, the music, or both.

Questions at this stage include:

  • What are trends relevant to this problem? (Relevant trends include trends in susceptibility, funding, expression, interaction e.t.c.)
  • What works well, and in what context? 
  • What isn’t done, and why? (Limits resulting from social, technical and other factors e.g. laws of thermodynamics, laws of motion, ecological thresholds, homeostasis, habits, de facto standards, resources, risk, misconceptions, market conditions, timing, it isn’t done because it doesn’t work well e.t.c.)

3 – The complex and 4- The chaotic stage is where the magic happens and involves the most experimentation with a focus on tacit knowledge with convexity to develop heuristics, practical tricks, and erudition. Science is more art than science here. An analogy is dance improvisation with a new dance partner to new music.

Questions at this stage include:

  • What did we do well?
  • What would we do better?

Diffused mode and Focussed mode

The stages above don’t always follow a step by step sequence or have hard boundaries because we alternate between different methods of thinking to solve problems. Diffused mode thinking goes wide, seeking a breath of learning and making new connections. If you’re starting with a new challenge or one you don’t understand yet, then diffused is the way to go. Focussed mode thinking goes deep, with emphasis placed on the depth of learning and concentration. When you have a path on how to solve a problem, go focussed for the win.

Diffused mode works best with beginners and in the complex to the chaotic stages. An expert may share insights on complicated to chaotic problems to a beginner. Having a beginner’s mindset is essential for experts. While experts are in the complex to the chaotic stages, they may still explore questions a beginner would ask.

Focussed mode is great in the simple to complicated stages after developing fundamentals. Problems here are broken down into smaller parts to solve using fundamentals (diffused mode thinking is sometimes required to find the right way of breaking down the problem, solving the parts, then putting the solved pieces back together).


Requirements vs Methods Matrix


Competencies Proficiency Scale

1 – Fundamental Awareness (basic knowledge)

You have a standard understanding of basic techniques and concepts.

2 – Novice (limited experience)

You have the level of experience gained in a classroom and experimental scenarios or as a trainee on-the-job. You are expected to need help when performing this skill.

3 – Intermediate (practical application)

You can complete tasks in this competency, as requested. Guidance from an expert may be required from time to time, but you can usually perform the skill independently.

4 – Advanced (applied theory)

You can complete the actions associated with this skill without assistance. Recognition within your immediate organization as “a person to ask” when difficult questions arise regarding this skill.

5 – Expert (recognized authority)

You are known as an expert in this area. You can provide guidance, troubleshoot, and answer questions related to this area of expertise and in fields using the skill.

Reference: National Institutes of Health Competencies Proficiency Scale

Depth of knowledge

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Reference: Teaching Complex Topics – Karin Hutchinson

Learning cycle


Reference: ALU Learning model

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