Two learning approaches - powerful ways to learn and build knowledge

Two learning approaches - powerful ways to learn and build knowledge

Learning is at the heart of Cultivated Management – and in this post and video, I will introduce my two main learning styles, and why one may be better than the other, along with a recap of my Personal Learning Management System.

What I share here is super applicable to our own lives, but it’s also the learning construct that I use in the workplace: Digesting information and then turning this information into knowledge through action. These two learning styles work well together but you may not always need both.

You can watch the video here, or read on below.

Two Main Learning Styles

I approach learning using two main styles:

  1. Information Acquisition
  2. Task Acquisition

Information Acquisition

Information acquisition is the consumption of information. It’s not yet knowledge as it hasn’t been put into action. The goal of learning is to become better (through actions and behaviours) and not just to consume information.

In fact, there are many people in the consulting industry that I am in, who simply spout lots of information that they have ingested but often have never put that information into action. They make a living by merely sounding extremely well read. And as long as they know more than the people they are consulting with, they can keep doing this. At some point though, information alone no longer cuts it.

Think about these people who read 100s of books a year and attend every conference, yet they rarely, if ever, put this information into action to create knowledge.

I’ve worked with people who know how to land plane (but have never flown), or they know how to play professional tennis (but have never competed) or they know Kotter’s change model, but have never tried to implement it. You get the idea.

That’s not what we do here at Cultivated Management. We gain knowledge by putting into action that information.

Reading, studying, remembering facts and consuming information is important, but it’s made more useful by turning it into action.

I like to play the drums and can read every book possible on the art and theory of drumming. I can tell people about this theory and sound knowledgeable. But, unless I pick up the drum sticks and play, I cannot actually profess to play the drums. The information I have acquired is helpful and useful, but not unless I put it into action.

It’s the same in work and business. Management consultants consulting on management, having never managed before. Agile coaches coaching on scrum after sitting the course but never having experienced when it doesn’t work, or what alternatives may look like.

Knowledge, true knowledge, comes from action.

Task Acquisition Learning

This is where task acquisition comes in. The art of learning through doing. The best people to take advice from are people who can do what they say they can – through their actions and behaviours. They likely combine information with task acquisition: they learn by putting information into action. This is how they develop knowledge. Photographers, musicians, artists, business owners, managers and more – they learn by doing the work.

In fact, in business, the best learning comes from doing the work. You learn more about running a business by running a business. You learn more about management by being a manager. You learn more about marketing from doing marketing.

It’s why I always recommend on the job training as the first form of learning; there is nothing like learning how to do the work by doing the work. But this is even more powerful when you have feedback, coaching and direction from someone who is already good at the work too.

We have coaches, tutors, teachers in the workplace (and our lives) – who are there to help us turn our information into action.

This is important:

We don’t need information acquisition (the first style) to learn how to do most things…..

Going back to the example of drumming. I can teach myself to drum simply by playing the drums. I can teach myself marketing, simply by trying to market something. I can learn how to be a good manager by copying someone I admire and learning what works.

But task acquisition is made even more powerful by supporting it with information. We can learn how to be a better manager by reading some of the theories and ideas – and then putting them into practice. I can learn the drums by reading about the best principles from a trusted source, and then practicing them.

Learn the theory and put it into practice, ideally with coaching and guidance from someone who’s already really good at the work.

The business world is awash with learning management systems, online courses and training sessions, but most of them are merely information acquisition. They are sources of information. They contain someone else’s knowledge shared as information.

Our goal then is to take this information, from a trusted source, and put that information into action to form our very own knowledge.

As such, my preference when taking on any learning challenges, is to focus on task acquisition heavily with support from information.

Personal Knowledge Management System – PKMS

So, how does this tie to my Personal Knowledge Management System. Very nicely indeed.

I go into greater depth here on the topic here.

In the video I explain my 4 steps: capture, curate, crunch and contribute


I capture information from various sources and it all ends up in Nimbus Note.

But there is little point in merely capturing and storing information. Reciting this information is not the point: the point is to become an effective person by changing my behaviours.


So, the next step is to curate this information. During this stage I ask a fundamental question about the information I have in the system:

“Do I still want this information?”

After all, I can capture a seamingly endless amount of information in a PKMS but on later reflection I may find it’s not useful or pertinent to my learning task.

I delete anything I know I won’t want again. I move anything useful for reference to my commonplace folder, I ensure everything is tagged carefully, tidied up and organised.


I then crunch this information. This is about mashing this information together with my current understanding of the subject and then putting it into action.

For example, let’s say I discover a new way to do a better presentation: I’ve read a book on presenting and there are some good ideas.

I must then crunch this with what I already do in presentations. Maybe there is a new way to do an introduction that counters or enhances what I already do. I must mash this with my current way of doing an introduction by studying the information. I then must try this in my next presentation. Does it work, is it better, does it feel right?

At this point I get to adopt either approach, or ditch one for the other so it’s part of my everyday presenting behaviours. I may end up with several different ways to open a presentation and each one suits a different context – this information lives in my PKMS. As an example, I will have a note in my PKMS about how to open presentations – and it will include the many ways I could open a presentation along with links to reference material.

So, my behaviours have changed – I now do better introductions or have a few to call upon depending on the context. I also have a note in my PKMS for reference.

The reality is I will rarely look back at the note in my PKMS as it’s become part of who I am.

This is me taking some information, crunching it, putting it into action, accomodating this information into my behaviours – and now it is knowledge. I know it works. I am able to explain what I know. And this is knowledge. It’s not me spouting back some information that someone else shared. It is me taking it, trying it, mashing it around, maybe even changing parts of it and it becoming part of who I am.


I then contribute what I know back to others. This could be at work through my knowledge and experience at work as a role model. It could be through this blog, or the videos, or podcast, or newsletter, or from the stage, or at a local meetup.

It seems a shame to learn, truly learn, how something works and then not share it with others. We all grow.

If you’re a manager or leader consider on the job training first with support from someone who’s already really good at it – this is contribution in action. Someone, with knowledge of the work, sharing through coaching and teaching someone who’s new to it. It’s a powerful way to learn.

Training and learning are about changing behaviours – and the best way to do this is through putting information into action. It’s the two learning styles working together to help me to become more knowledgeable.

I try to combine the two learning styles and always use my PKMS for this process.

I hope this helps and you find it useful. I don’t have comments switched on, but I am always happy to help you remain relevant, employable and effective”