Today, in addition to acquiring relevant “Front-End” knowledge, each of us also needs to know how to create the "Back-End" portion of our personal learning efforts. After completing our formal educational programs, each of us needs to take the next step and design, stage, and implement their own personalized, experience-based, self-directed learning programs.

At this point in history, we each need to know how to organize the kinds of experiential and transformative learning experiences that will transform our educational accomplishments into personal and professional learning journeys that, in appropriate ways and at appropriate moments, do three crucial things:

  • Improve essential skills we already have,

  • Develop the new skills needed to succeed at work and in our lives, and

  • Reframe our outdated modes of thinking in ways that more effectively respond to today's challenges and opportunities.

Several experts have authored the theories, models, and concepts that, at this point in time, form the foundation for TLO's approach to Back-End learning.

  • David Kolb, from Case Western Reserve, almost single handedly created the field of experiential learning, which is TLO's primary back-end launch point. We use experiential learning with individuals who want to develop more effective ways of solving difficult personal or professional problems. We also use it with executives who want to build the new talents they need to lead their organizations.

  • Jack Mezirow, from Columbia University, is due credit for his development of Transformative Learning. It’s the approach we use with TLO Thought Partners who want to alter habitual belief patterns that clearly are producing dissatisfying or dysfunctional consequences. It's also the modality we use when a TLO Thought Partner wants and needs to initiate a fundamental shift in the basic premises they're holding about their life and the world.

  • Three Self-Directed Neuroplasticity pioneers, Louis Cozolino, Jeffery Schwartz, and Rick Hanson, provide the tools and techniques that TLO uses with clients who want to develop the kind of new neurobiological networks that will allow them to create even the most complex socio-emotional skills in a concentrated, focused, and efficient way. Self-Directed Neuroplasticity is the learning approach we use when a given thought partner is ready to imprint new neurobiological connections and networks that they've catalyzed. Self-Directed Neuroplasticity's tools are those that we use when we're helping a thought partner permanently stabilize the results of their experiential and transformational work. Together, these three methodologies compose the set of tools and techniques that we use to help our clients firmly establish new neuronal architecture. They're the foundation of TLO's approach to both horizontal and vertical learning. 

the essence of BAck-End skill building

Forty years ago, Herbert Simon and Malcolm Knowles launched what's now known as self-directed learning. In his book Skill in Chess (1973), Simon offered all of us one of the most famous learning propositions ever published: “There are no instant experts in chess--certainly no instant masters or grandmasters. There appears not to be on record any case (including Bobby Fischer) were a person has reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade's participation with the game." "We," Simon said, "would estimate, very roughly, that a master might spend perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours...staring at chess positions…" Simultaneously, Malcolm Knowles published two books, The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (1973) and Self-Directed Learning: A Guide for Learners and Teachers (1975), which together served to name self-directed learning as a valid approach to learning.

In 1984, David Kolb elaborated and concretized Simon's research in his book, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. The step forward that Kolb offered in his book, the contribution he made to Simon and Knowles’s insights about the significance of personal experience was Kolb’s four-step experiential learning process. In practice, Kolb showed that every adult’s learning efforts go through a four-step learning cycle that progressed like this:

Step 1: Immediate action provides us with the experiential basis for personal observations and reflection (Concrete Experience);

Step 2: These reflections are pulled together into new conceptual theories, from which we deduce new implications for action (Reflective Observation);

Step 3: These new hypotheses then serve us as guides for “experimenting” with new behaviors in our real worlds (Abstract Conceptualization); and

Step 4: In turn, these new behaviors create new experiences for us, which restart the learning cycle (Active Experimentation). 

In practice, Kolb’s four-step learning sequence looks like this:




For TLO, Kolb's four-stage model identifies the specific steps that all adult must take to implement the experience-based learning processes that Simon hinted at in Skill in Chess. Most adults implement Kolb’s learning cycle unconsciously. The best, most effective learners consciously move themselves through some portions of their Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active experimentation stages. At TLO, we believe conscious implementation of all four of Kolb’s learning cycle is essential, especially if we want to react and respond to the 21st Century's startling challenges and inspiring opportunities. Most adults take these four steps without ever being explicitly aware of what they’re doing; We believe that it’s very important to learn how to take each of these steps deliberately and consciously. 


TLO's experience with Simon and Kolb’s learning theories over the past several years confirms that, for most adults, mastering complex new skills, regardless of whether they’re personal or professional, does in fact take 10,000+ hours. And that a significant portions of these 10,000 hours must include work in each of Kolb’s four stages.

However, we’ve also discovered that, if an adult learner consciously integrates Simon's discoveries about focused attention with Kolb's insights about experiential learning, and then matches these two skillsets with Anders Ericsson's insights about deliberate practice and Jack Mezirow's ideas about transformative learning, then they can accelerate the pace and effectiveness of their individual learning efforts. In fact, when an adult learner consciously integrates the knowledge and skills that Simon, Kolb, Mezirow, and Ericsson offer, they can dramatically reduce the time it takes them to master a complex new skill to well below the 10,000 hours that Simon prescribed.

This is exciting news. It appears that, when you take what we know about focused attention, deliberate practice, experiential learning, and transformational learning and integrate these four practices into a comprehensive, self-directed approach to improving existing skills and developing new ones, you can actually tailor and support whatever Back-End learning journey you might be interested in launching in such a way that it becomes concrete, practical, and almost always effective. And certainly something that takes considerably less than 10,000 hours to complete.