What is Learning?

Ron Macklin & Michelle Mosolgo

What Is Learning?

Episode 24: What is Learning?


Ron opens by asking Michelle, “what is learning?”

  • Michelle says how she used to think learning was just being able to pass a test in school, but it all changed during her college calculus class.
  • She then tells the story of how that professor got her to realize that learning is a process of trying things yourself, applying what you know, experimenting, and then asking for help when you get stuck.


Michelle then asks Ron what learning is to him.

  • Ron thinks about when he discovered learning and realized it was in middle school when he first took the Meyers-Briggs test.
  • He recalls taking this test, and reading his results that were supposed to tell him about himself, including being excellent at exams. He felt this did not describe him at all since he was a B student, but then his dad told him not to get exams confused with tests in school.
  • He noticed that learning for him did not happen in school, it was when he was out in the world trying to do something, or achieve something.
  • Learning for him has turned into being able to take care of a concern that you have with the skills that you have.

Ron asks Michelle what showed up for her while he was talking about the differences between school and the real world.

  • Michelle says she agrees, and returns to discussing her college professor and how he knocked her into a way of learning where it was focused on real world application of the skills you have acquired.
  • She says he was really just there as a source of help when she got stuck, which she carried with her into her career.
  • Learning in her mind is something that is her responsibility to go out and to try things and take lessons away from them, but it also includes the network of help that you have around you.

Ron then recalls how their friend Monte Roberts says, “there is no such thing as teaching, only learning.” He then asks Michelle what that means to her.

  • Michelle says when she thinks about teaching, she thinks of someone telling you something, but that doesn’t mean that you have absorbed that information, or are able to apply it to solve problems. With that in mind, she says she is unsure of what teaching really is.
  • Ron jumps in and says that when he first heard Monte say that, he got a big smile on his face because he understood.
  • He says that learning is creating a new synapse in your brain, and there is only one possible source of that happening, and that is yourself.
  • Ron continues by saying that what Monte helped him realize is that you can’t force that to happen for anybody else. That teaching is at best creating a space for other people to make something up and create that new synapse in their own brain.
  • It also makes him think of the old Chinese saying, ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will arrive’ because no learning can occur unless that person wants it to occur.
  • Michelle then works through the new information that Ron presented to her, and relates it back to her own life.

Ron brings up a quote that he knows Michelle likes from Alice in Wonderland, and asks how it is relevant.

  • Michelle says the quote from the movie is, “Now here you see, it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast as that.”
  • She then explains how this is relevant to everybody because the world is constantly changing, that you also have to be constantly learning in order to stay in the same place.
  • If you want to learn a new skill, it takes a lot of energy to learn that new skill or technology that can help you advance.
  • Michelle says that continuous learning for her is part of her joy because she loves learning new things, which she did not expect to be the case when she left college.

Ron follows up by asking her why she says she loves learning.

  • Michelle then describes why she loves learning, because it allows her to keep up and not fall behind.
  • She also describes how from a career perspective, it was required, but that everyone was in it together.

Ron asks if there is something that really stands out to her from her learning over the years.

  • Michelle shares a learning experience from one of her prior roles in a pharmaceutical company where they were able to speed up the time to market by a few weeks.
  • She then asks Ron what stands out from his learning over the years.
  • Ron walks through a story of how learning allowed him and one of his teams in past jobs ended up setting world records for replacing fuel rods in the nuclear reactors.
  • He says that people learned a lot by working through those processes, and that he has spoken with people years later who still remember all of those lessons vividly because of all the learning that occurred during that time.

Michelle then asks if Ron thinks about learning everyday, and if so, how he has built it into his daily activities.

  • Ron describes his daily process which includes reading and listening to something everyday, and then playing a game of trying to learn lessons anytime he watches a movie or tv show.
  • Michelle then describes how she and her daughter play a game during commercials to figure out what you can notice, how you can learn about what works and what doesn’t work by analyzing what is already out there.
  • Michelle says she also works to try to read both sides to every story.