Leadership, Our Blog

The Three Zones of Learning

By Tasha M. Troy

This past semester, I taught a “language support” class for international students taking a world history course. As part of my duties, I was required to attend all the world history lectures with my students.

I loved it!  While I took Western history as part of my own college education, I really enjoyed learning with my expanded view of the world after 20 years teaching students from all around the globe.
I have never really thought of it this way before, but I realize now that my hunger to learn has been a major contributing factor to my success. Most of the time, this hunger is shown in the books I read, sometimes in classes I take, occasionally in the classes I teach. I try to learn something every day!


Learn to Love Learning

I love learning, and I love helping people learn. No matter what the topic, if I know even a little more than others, I’m going to try to those around me.  I like to say it’s in my blood, being a third generation educator as I am.

John Maxwell, in his book Leadership Gold, spends a whole chapter on the topic of learning and gives three suggestions that will help you adopt this attitude of learning – Keep Learning to Keep Leading.

  1. Invest in yourself.
  2. Be a continual learner.
  3. Create a growth environment.

Today, I’m going to focus on the second suggestion, being a continual learner.


Becoming a Continual Learner

For me, this is natural. I was one of those really strange kids who was always happy at the end of summer when school started again. But I do recognize that a lot of people struggle with traditional education. Even if you hated school, you can still love learning. Learning is different than education.

Now, I’ve spent most of my career on university campuses. Some academics might think this is sacrilegious, but I truly see that education and learning are not the same thing.  I’ve learned so much just from reading books or watching videos, attending classes where I was learning a skill or spending time with people in discussion.

For example, last week I had my first international ballroom dance class that was taught in English.  The lesson last night was familiar, but the last time I learned it, I was in South Korea and the lesson was taught in Korean.  I had to depend on observation and practice with skilled partners more than listening to explanations when I first learned – and I appreciated the finer points that were explained to me in English last week!

There are so many different ways to learn things. I encourage you to explore some of those different methods of learning even if you enjoy traditional-style-education learning like I did. But always be looking for ways to grow and to learn and to understand the world and the people in it just a little better.


The Three Learning Zones

John Maxwell describes three zones that people live in:

  • The Coasting Zone– You’ve done that before, and you don’t feel you need to do it again. You might not even be doing what you did before. You don’t have to work so hard, and you’re not going try real hard.
  • The Comfort Zone– You have done it, and now you know how to do it. You know you’re good at it, so you’re not going to push the limits.
  • The Challenge Zone– You’re trying new things, and you’re going new places. You’re learning and stretching to new levels.

As we’re talking about this, I have students in all three categories. I have one or two students – not so many this semester – but one or two students have the attitude of “been there, done that; I’m comfortable talking in English and using these skills, so I don’t need to work real hard.” They’re coasting. However, I have one student in particular who is always hungry to understand everything, and he makes me work hard.

I thought it is really interesting how John Maxwell talks about these three zones. Usually you think about your comfort zone and getting in or out of your comfort zone, but it’s not just advancing beyond the comfort zone. It’s a possible slide back into a coasting zone. Nothing is accomplished when you’re coasting.

InThe 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John Maxwell points out that, while we’re growing up and attending school, it is natural for us to feel stretched out of our comfort zone because we are naturally growing and learning.  But as adults, growth doesn’t happen as a matter of course.  We have to be intentional about continuing to grow and expand our capacity.


Take It Deeper

What are you reading or learning right now? You might be reading up on leadership or another professional skill, or you might be working towards an additional graduate degree.  You might take up dancing or skiing or windsurfing.  You might join a choir or start volunteering for a charity.

No matter where you are in life, you can always become more than you are today.  And in that lies your secret path to success!

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.  If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I offer an ongoing live online course on personal and professional development:  Professional Development Essentials.


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