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What is High Performance Learning?


23 October 2018

“The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture,” -Josh Bersin

Organizations are investing more than ever in employee training programs, greater access to online training videos, etc. Yet more disgruntled when they're not seeing the impact they desire.

What does it really mean to be a high performance learner? We often talk about learning as an intellectual activity only. Certainly understanding something intellectually is one important aspect of learning.

Intellectual learning alone rarely leads to a new action. Think about the difference between reading about driving a car and actually driving a car. Or reading about being married and actually being married. You might understand them intellectually, but it's not until you've put practices in place and really experienced the act of driving that you've truly learned.

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” -Eric Hoffer

A common misconception, particularly in the business world, is that learning is entirely, or almost entirely, a cognitive process – that it happens in the intellect, and that if you develop an intellectual understanding of something you have largely mastered it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. High Performance Learning involves deep involvement of our physical and emotional selves, and it is only when you have integrated the distinctions you are developing at all three levels – the emotional, physical and intellectual – that you can truly say you have learned. Learning involves the ability to take effective action, and effective action – even if the action manifests entirely as speaking to other people – involves our whole selves.

Anyone who has walked into a sales presentation with a prospective client knows that the physical presence and the emotional rapport you establish are vital aspects of a successful sales effort.

These do not happen by memorizing facts about the person you are meeting, or by knowing the specs of your product or service. You must be able to center yourself physically, be aware of the emotions you and others are experiencing, and have hands-on experience with your products and services.

The more emotional and physical experience you have, the richer the set of distinctions you can draw on. Mastery and high performance occur when we hold our distinctions in our bodies and emotions as well as in our intellects.

A characteristic of people who excel in their chosen fields is that they are high performance learners. High performance learning does not come easily; it requires hard work, intention, commitment, and a willingness to tolerate considerable discomfort – even to welcome it, knowing that it’s necessary for sustaining and improving your capabilities.

High performance learners seek out the guidance of coaches, mentors, and teachers – people who consistently challenge them to reach for new heights, who help them consistently choose new goals to strive for, and who provide them with practices that challenge them appropriately as they grow and develop. In considering what it takes to be a high performance learner, it is worth reflecting on what it means to learn.

Two key aspects of learning are the development of distinctions, and the ability to engage in breakthrough learningCreating new practices is essential for learning, especially for adults, because learning involves not just taking in the new, but undoing the old.


  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate yourself with respect to High Performance Learning (1 being neither committed nor engaged in practices to develop yourself as a high performance learner; 10 being highly committed and actively engaged in practices)?
  2. Using the same scaling system, how would you rate your team (however you define your team); how would you rate your organization?
  3. What would be the value of raising these scores for yourself, your team, and your organization?
  4. What would it take to raise these scores?
  5. What possibilities would show up if you personally committed to High Performance Learning?

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