How to find your learning zone

It's easier than you think

My son’s youth soccer team recently began practicing for their upcoming season. They work with their coach on conditioning, footwork and communication. All of this helps them develop as players and come together as a team to win games.

During one practice, they scrimmaged a team of kids 1 year older (youth soccer teams are formed by birth year). Those kids are a little more experienced, bigger, stronger and faster.

An interesting thing happened. While the older team generally controlled the game, my son’s team played a bit stronger and faster than usual to remain competitive. Their coach guided them during the scrimmage to overcome their disadvantage.

Zone of proximal development

One of the best things to do when you’re learning something is to divide your tasks into zones. Ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. What can I do by myself?

  2. What can I do with help?

  3. What can I not do?

What can I do by myself?

You can do a lot just by yourself. You’ve learned so many things over the years. Think of this as your comfort zone.

But being comfortable isn’t the best way for you to learn. You need to push beyond your comfort zone.

What can I do with help?

You can do a lot more with a bit of guidance. Help can come from another person, a tool or something else. A lot of learning happens when a teacher, coach or peer with a higher skill set helps you.

This is your learning zone. It’s more formally known as the zone of proximal development. It’s where your best learning happens.

Think about the soccer story. Two things happened to help the development of my son’s team.

First, the team played with peers one year older and with a higher skill set. That helped them see small things they may have otherwise overlooked.

Second, the coach guided the team during the scrimmage. The coach directed kids where to go at certain times. This is a form of scaffolding.

Both contribute to a healthy learning environment.

What can I not do?

As much as we’d all like to think otherwise, there are many things we cannot do, even with help.

If my son’s team played a team of kids 5 years older than them, they wouldn’t stand a chance. The kids would be too stressed and anxious to compete. What may be viewed as a learning experience on the surface would quickly turn into the opposite.

Think of this as the danger or panic zone. Avoid this at all costs.

More knowledgeable other

The best way to find your learning zone is to ask yourself what you need a bit of help with to accomplish.

Can you ask someone for help? Can you watch a video or read a document to learn more? Find your more knowledgeable other, whether it’s a person or a thing.

This is your zone of proximal development and where your best learning happens.

Try it out and see how how well it works for you.

Thanks for reading.

See you next week,