How fully understanding meaning of words keeps you engaged

How to keep healthy attitude to learning, part 2

Last time I shared with you four (out of five) mind-sets that can help you stay positive and motivated when it comes to learning. These were:

1. Seeing your ability and willingness to learn as a measure of your potential to survive

2. Realising learning is a tool that allows you to be in control of your environment

3. Knowing that you don’t know everything

4. Be sure that you’re going to use what you learn

I saved the fifth for last because I wanted to elaborate on it in a bit more detail, and writing about it in a separate article seemed like a good idea. It might actually be the key to effective learning. So here it comes…

5. Make sure you have correct definitions for all words

A while ago I came across this quote:

“Memorisation is what we resort to when what we are learning makes no sense.” (Anonymous)

This instantly raised a question in my mind. Have anyone ever taught you how to learn? And I don’t mean the best tricks to pass the exams, or best ways to memorise something, but to learn in such a way that you’re then able to understand and apply whatever you decide to study? Think about it for a moment.

Here’s a small fact that might interest you: 4 in 5 employees are bad at learning according to CEB HR research. This would suggest that perhaps people should be taught how to learn before they are engaged in learning? That would make efforts of Learning and Development professionals much more prominent.

Being able to learn effectively is important at any stage in your life, not only at school but also at work; and making sure that you have correct definition for all words is one of the steps to effective learning.

A person’s inability to grasp and effectively put learning material into practical use stems from a misunderstood word.

This might seem at first like a silly argument, because how come one misunderstood word could be a cause of so much trouble (when you think about it), right? But perhaps this is why the majority of people haven’t paid much attention to it and never looked at it closely.

Alfred Korzybski (a Polish-American scientist in the field of semantics) discovered that the imprecise use of language affects human behaviour and causes all sorts of mental and physical reactions in people.*

Further research found that one misunderstood word can inhibit whole understanding of a particular subject, because the student loses connection with the studied topic, which then goes out of his or her reality. It becomes “boring”, “stupid”, “difficult”, “not really their thing”, etc., and you end up with lots of drop outs or learners who can’t really apply what they’ve just studied.

Reading past a misunderstood word manifests itself in various ways, such as for example getting a blank mind (i.e. when you’re reading a book and have no memory of what you’ve just read), day dreaming, drifting off, yawning, agitation, feeling sort of dead like a zombie, etc.**

A person doesn’t have to have all these sensations at once, but it’s good to keep yourself in the loop when you’re reading or studying something and when you start manifesting one of them. When this happens to me, I try and find THE word I ‘missed’. I ask myself for a definition of that word and if it doesn’t come easily to me, I check it in a dictionary (there are so many great mobile apps and online dictionaries these days, there’s no excuse to not use dictionaries!).

I came across a number of books with glossaries added at the end, which had definitions for most likely misunderstood words, and this proved to be a great help when studying them. Glossaries or something of the sort is also a great idea for e-learning courses and is definitely worth considering for Instructional Designers when they work on their next project.

I hope these five attitudes to learning will prove helpful and useful when thinking of starting your next learning venture — weather as a learner or Learning and Development professional. And if you have different or more mind-sets that help you stay motivated and keep a healthy attitude to learning that you’d like to share, please share them in your comments.

Here’s how our creative team at Commelius approaches e-learning.

* You can find more about Alfred Korzybski and his findings in his books, listed at the Institute of General Semantics.

** Read more on barriers to study and effects of them on learners at

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