The Art of Learning Through Correlation

Over the last few years, I’ve heard both parents and teachers complain about kids needing to be “spoon fed” the answers. Students often whine when we can’t get them a specific example of how a good paper or report should look, or the effort a science project should require, or even how a clean bedroom should appear. But the thing is, these kids are products of our making. We all want those who lead us to personalize and customize their instruction, to tailor it for our situation.

In other words, we adults are guilty, too.

When did we walk away from the art of learning through correlation? This is when we hear of an idea, and even though it doesn’t necessarily relate to our personal context, we see how it can be applied to our situation. So we translate it, and we grow.

Author Seth Godin calls this learning by analogy. In a recent article to marketing employees, he says:

The story of Hansel and Gretel is not actually about Hansel or Gretel. 

You are surrounded by examples and lessons and case studies that clearly aren’t exactly about your project. There’s never been a book written precisely about the situation you are facing right now, either. Perhaps one day they will publish, “Marketing Low-Cost Coaching Services to Small Businesses Specializing in Graphic Design in the Upper Peninsula for Dummies,” but don’t hold your breath.

 Marketing, like all forms of art, requires us to learn to see. To see what’s working and to transplant it, change it and amplify it.

We don’t teach this, but we should. We don’t push people to practice the act of learning by analogy, because it’s way easier to just give them a manual and help them avoid thinking for themselves.

The opportunity is to find the similarities and get ever better at letting others go first–not with what you’ve got, but with something you can learn from.

May I offer an example?

Over and over, teachers approach me after seeing a Habitudes® presentation. I’ve just explained how teaching with images, conversations and experiences engages students, and I’ve usually given examples of some images that teach discipline or responsibility. I even cite schools that use them with student council, or athletes, or even in a classroom.

Some of the listeners light up and can immediately see how these images could ignite meaningful conversations in history class or advisement period. They have learned to think abstractly and can learn through correlation. Even though I’ve not mentioned their specific school, they can interpret what it might look like. They see parallels.

Sadly, however, many teachers simply cannot imagine how this would look in their school. They’ve been so conditioned to think concretely that unless I walk through an illustration that matches their context, they miss the correlation and application.

My Greatest Discoveries

Some of my greatest moments of discovery and learning have come from people who work completely outside my industry. I get ideas on how to improve my work from dentists, from furniture salesmen, from mothers and from filmmakers. The reason I do is simply because I’ve come to understand how to learn via correlation. It’s simply the art of seeing parallels between incoming information and personal application.

When Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press, he did so through correlation. After watching wine presses operate for months, seeing grapes turned into delicious wine, he transposed that idea into pressing words. When he did so, only 3 percent of the population was even literate. His invention changed that. More people read today than at any time in history, but it required a man to learn through correlation.

What’s going on around you today that you could translate and learn via correlation?

Looking to develop leadership skills in students next year? 

Check out Habitudes®: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes



The Art of Learning Through Correlation