the trinity of learning

 Seat of learning...

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about learning and change in a number of contexts.  How difficult some things are to change, and how applied learning can lead to growth in capacity and change.  
My thoughts turned to one of my favourite quotes from Frances Bacon (1625):

Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.

and how profound, yet simple, this very insightful observation is. 

I decided to go back to the source of the quote and read his one paragraph essay called ‘On Studies’ – see: here if you have interest in the essay.  When reading the essay I learned that it contained my next favourite quote from Bacon on reading.  More on this later in a future blog article.



Reading is important for us, as we read and ingest what we read, we are developed, or to use Bacon’s old language, made ‘full’. Particularly if our reading is ‘good’ reading.  So, what is ‘good’ reading?  This is where a good leadership programme and or coach can add real value.  Directing you to resources that are contextual to your learning and current capacity.  Of course, ‘good’ reading is not just technical or work related, but also reading that stretches or stimulates, like great literature or poetry.  I’ll come back to this in a future blog article.

In his essay,  Bacon indicates that some few books need to be ‘chewed and digested? or ‘read wholly, and with diligence and attention.? However, reading in itself is not enough for real learning ‘ he takes this forward to share the importance of ‘conference’. This is conversation, debate or dialogue ‘ where we share what we have learned together, and expose our own thoughts about this learning, its relevance or impact on us, what we have made of it.  How we are applying it.

But where can we find space, context and people to ‘conference’ with?



For the purposes of this short article, I will focus on two areas where this ‘conference’ can work effectively to enhance learning.  The first is in the context of a coaching relationship.  For me, the essence of coaching is enabling a purposeful conversation.  Reflection and action. Establishing, and developing, a relationship with a good coach can provide the space for a creative, supportive and challenging conversation to take place – deepening the learning, or making you ‘a ready man or woman’.

The second is Action Learning.  There are many models for Action Learning on the go, and to some degree all of them focus on creating the safe space for reflection, deepening dialogue, testing ideas or potential solutions, improving awareness and enhancing learning.

‘Conference’ requires a deeper level of engagement, and risk. It exposes if I’ve merely adopted the words, models or approaches of others (perhaps my most recent ‘guru’ such as Heifetz, Shutz, Cooperider, etc., etc.).  Or have i integrated the learning into my work and practice. In my relationships now. In my life now. 



Bacon goes on to say, ‘writing makes an exact man’ and the relevance in this part of the quote is the importance of putting something down on paper. Committing oneself to something. I’ve read, we’ve developed in conversation or dialogue, but now I ‘nail my colours to the mast.’ I make a statement. This is my view. This is what I think. And the process of writing this brings precision and clarity.

This is one of the reasons I’ve started blogging.  Of course, due to the sensitive nature of a lot of my work, there is a lot I can’t say on my blog, so I’ve also refreshed my journalling practice for some of the more confidential reflections.  For some of my applied theory and development of my own thinking I’m writing up some case studies and outline articles. These offerings can be shared to test my developing ideas at some future time and appropriate context.


Learning and change

All learning involves change.  So which aspects of the ‘trinity of learning’ do you think you should focus on?

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3 comments… add one

  • I agree with the sentiment behind the Bacon quotation, and I find that the writing element does help to sharpen the thinking/reflection aspect. I wonder if the advent of blogging has created a new dynamic – reading/thinking, then writing, then conference through comments. For many blogs – including mine – the writing may not be ‘exact’ in nature, but maybe the comments adding alternative viewpoints help to stimulate further thinking (extension) leading to further writing.

  • Really good point Les,
    I think blogging is a cross between ‘conference’ and ‘writing’ – as it’s often putting out thoughts in process.
    The very medium is ‘rough’, although skilful writers have a different level of expertise!
    (PS listening to Marvin Gaye as I type!)

  • Azadul Hoq

    I wholeheartedly agree with the article, I have realised that Speaking/listening is the pinnacle (dialogue) is first, shaping our awareness and understanding, then comes reading enhancing our language in words, to start the push into writing.
    As an Educator, I have been fortunate to experience and help children my assessing the areas of weakness and by enhancing that the other 2 areas become stronger.
    As well as combining each of the element in various ways, ie reading with writing, speaking with reading, and writing-Reading- speaking. Combinations of all three in various ways enhances the beauty of understanding and explaining.

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