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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Learn to Be, Learn to Do, Learn to Know (in that order)

There are three different types of learning: learning to be, learning to do, and learning to know.

Learning to be focuses on helping someone understand who they are and who they want to be. This type of learning answers such questions as: “What do I love doing?” “What is my dream?” “What gives me energy?” “What are my unique strengths?” and even “What is my role in a group?” Reflection is necessary. Online social networking (such as Facebook) has exploded in part because it partially meets this need. Learning to be is the most individualistic of the three different types of learning.

Learning to do, in contrast, focuses on developing skills that can be applied, such as in the productive world. Learning to do almost always involves significant practice. Learning to do topics include such abstract skills as leadership, innovation, stewardship, and project management on one end, and more literal skills, such as how to build, grow, use, or fix things, on the other.

Learning to know focuses on knowledge that can be captured in books and lectures. This includes timelines and dates, definitions and facts. Google and Wikipedia are the ultimate learning to know tools. Most schools are very busy at developing this type of learning.

Any curriculum that focuses solely on one of these types of learning is missing most of the opportunities for complete learning. Further, there is a logical order to presenting the three different types. Traditional schools’ forte, learning to know, can come only after learning to be and learning to do have successfully begun.

It is the role of childhood to build these three types of learning into every individual. Society pays a steep price when people are not developed in all areas.


  1. I worked so hard at "learning to know" by being a good student, that "learning to be" happened only by accident, without support, or much, much later at personal crisis points in my twenties. I think my experience of "failure to launch" was mostly due to that missing piece of learning to be. Thank you for putting this into words and presenting it as you did. You have hit on one of my biggest reasons for homeschooling my children. One of homeschooling's strengths is that it allows children to balance and value all three types of learning. Learning to be is not "extra" or self-indulgent, but a core human process.

  2. I agree with your assessment of how learning can be broken down, but I wonder about your comment on Facebook in the last section.

    Do you think social media necessarily encourages reflection on social roles and self-understanding? Is there a danger that such tools may lessen self-reflection because the user can effortlessly take on multiple personas? Or, conversely, might such tools promote rigid self-definition since site like Facebook are constantly demanding that you maintain a particular definition of yourself?

  3. Hi Collette,

    You ask some very interesting questions. At the highest level, I would suggest that Facebook is interesting not because it helps a student become a better person (to learn how to be), but simply in that it allows a student to focus on and deliberately design a persona. It is part of the process. But it is not sufficient. Likewise, Google is designed to give you facts. But it can give you the wrong facts, or can indulgence your focus on facts when you should be focusing on something else.

  4. And thanks, Sarah. You said it better than I did.