What is your Orientation to Learning?

Balance is not something you find, it is something you create 

- Jana Kingsford

Understanding this dimension and what is important about it, can lead to recognising how it can help you achieve

A Definition of Orientation to Learning -

Includes Resilience, and the dynamics of change... 

This learning dimension does not describe a single asset - like resilience, but the Balance between two. It’s the aim of finding harmony between the extremes of rigidly persistent learning, and fragile and dependent learning. Where we fall on the spectrum between these two ends, equates to our orientation to learning. How we move toward a better balance, requires resilience.  

So, what is rigidity and persistence in learning; what does it mean to be fragile and dependent - and what can a balance between the two actually look like? This takes a bit of getting our heads around.

Fragility and dependence, makes us more likely to give up easily. We might doubt ourselves, our abilities or our environment so much that we feel as if It is hopeless to try beyond a certain point. We feel overwhelmed by changes to the environment or our own internal climate, and we push less toward our learning aims in order to protect ourselves from failure. 

If we are ‘rigidly persistent’, on the other hand, we might be determined to stay as we are, doing things our way with a fixed vision of success. We tend to blame external things that we can’t control if we perceive any sense of failure or deviation from our goal. It can make us less inclined to listen to others, and more likely to get stuck down ‘rabbit holes’; perhaps creating bigger problems for ourselves and others later on, if we ignore vital feedback that can shape a more rounded course of action. 

This dimension is about being open to learning, new ideas and challenge and having the ‘inner strength’ to move confidently from purpose to performance by embracing learning and change, rather than either giving up and withdrawing or ‘toughing it out’ and getting mad with the world.

Let’s look at orientation to learning at work in the other dimensions of learning power, to illustrate. In Sense making, for example, there is a need to maintain a good balance between how we form, consolidate and act on our existing understanding, - with how we search for, interact with, and change in light of new understandings. This requires a delicate, dynamic, ongoing balancing. 

Our Mindful agency needs us to be consciously aware of both our internal goals, needs and motivation, and our external experience of the wider world - in order to act adaptively. Collaboration requires working closely with others, with all parties equally invested in the advancement of the other; but without losing their own purpose and remit. 

All of these balances require the willingness to ‘hold a tension’. This is the difficult and courageous work of Entertaining the uncertainty between extremes; being willing to ask questions in every direction, knowing that we don’t know, before moving on with a bit more certainty. In reality we are always making movements - large ones, or the microscopic, between knowing, and not knowing. Feeling strong and feeling small; seeing clearly or totally disorientated. It is the same uncertainty and doubt experienced here however, which energizes learning and gives us the determination to get the job done

It’s not possible to do this - to keep on moving forward in spite of the constant need to rebalance ourselves, admitting that we will never have fully ‘made it’; without resilience and determination. 

Our orientation to learning is a bit like a compass. Consulting it - something needed regularly in order to check how far we may be straying off balance, can re-orientate us and help us to make good decisions in the here and now, while remaining focussed on our future goals. Getting familiar with it, and even getting to love and appreciate it as a reliant guide, takes practice.

And it takes knowing deep down, that ‘mistakes’ are just another Opportunity to reorientate, another opportunity to learn. Accepting that the process is a struggle - and that this is not a sign of failure, but normal, natural, universal, and even beneficial. 

Your orientation to learning is what can drive learning

Balancing between the uncertainty of change and the solidity of knowledge, is the engine of real learning. It is a process that is well described by Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, a model of performance success which depends on the depth of uncertainty and doubt which the learners are willing to ‘hold’, together, alongside their collective action. It provides real hope for what humans are capable of, when we are willing to be Deeply present and aware of their challenges.

Barriers to having a balanced Orientation to Learning

These fall into two broad camps: those of being too rigid, or too fragile.

Though we will all often experience wavering between the two extremes - (whether dramatically, or in tiny movements throughout the day); it is likely that most of us will experience a tendency toward one end of the spectrum for long periods of time; we can observe this in our individual habits and patterns of life.

  • Rigidity and persistence can look like needing fixed routines or control over our environment and how we spend our time. We might find it difficult to listen to others, receive suggestions or constructive criticism, or to entertain information that is telling us to change course in our actions. We might need to have a very clear role when we are working with others, and find it difficult when others change, or change plans and their own habits, which might affect our own. 
  • Fragility and dependence can look like being hesitant in group discussions, waiting for others to lead and make decisions, holding back from putting our work ‘out there’ or exposing it to the wider world. We give up quickly, have little faith in our repertoire of problem solving resources, and find it difficult to reach out for help. We might be quite involved in the detail of projects, perhaps even becoming quite perfectionistic, but as a means of procrastination rather than confidence in our ‘product’. 

We might experience ourselves on either end of the spectrum of orientation to learning due to predisposition of personality, the influence of our upbringing, the needs of our circumstances, or perhaps because of the psychological marks left by unresolved emotional challenges. 

Becoming more balanced in your orientation to learning...

The good news is that there are ways to help unblock some of these barriers to maintaining a good balance. There are various strategies we have put together further along, that you might find helpful as you progress through your learning journey. We call them ‘pathways’. 

Your Learning Journal


Something highly recommended as you’re travelling this journey, is keeping a journal. Whether a paper journal, a scrapbook or a virtual space to record your thoughts and experiences chronologically; this provides a crucial reflective tool for you to clarify thoughts through creative expression, prompt and remind yourself of important learning, and track your progress as you look back on it. This will be a space for recording your responses to questions or pathways you encounter here, but it may also include much of your own ad-libbing and anything else that is helpful to you.


You’ll notice pointers along the way to encourage and remind on the use of your journal; but this can take whatever form you like. 

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Why is Orientation to Learning?