The Real Learner

What’s A Real Learner? 

Real Learners are people who have taken the Real Learning Project philosophy to heart.

To qualify as a Real Learner, an individual must have worked their way through the Real Learning book, done the JDIs (just-do-its), assessed their situation, documented their work and personal goals, set up their learning environment (solid content, productive social networks), reflected on what they need to know and how they’re progressing, developed their own approach to learning, worked out loud, and shared knowledge with colleagues. They will have practiced these activities to the point that they become second nature.

Real Learners are equipped to learn from experience, to work smarter, and to convert their aspirations into realities. Real Learners are street-smart with social and experiential learning because they’ve experienced them doing the exercises in the book. They are accustomed to working on their own initiative.

Real Learners reflect on their strengths, wants, aspirations, and dreams. From this they derive written goals, which they document in a Progress Log. The goals provide the motivation to strive to work smarter, learn what you need to know, and do what it takes to become who you are. Intrinsic motivation is a powerful motivator.

You can spot Real Learners from their behavior. You know you have found one when you see someone:

  • Documenting work, career, and personal goals in writing.
  • Taking on stretch experiences, welcoming the buzz of taking appropriate risks.
  • Socializing, sharing, conversing, and actively participating in communities.
  • Filtering out bad information and time wasters, tapping best resources.
  • Spending 15 minutes at the end of each day reflecting on what was learned.
  • Assessing the best way to learn a new skill.
  • Working out loud.
  • Mentoring others.
  • Confident in their ability to become smarter and more effective.

My hope, and it seems only natural, is that Real Learners will lead happier, fulfilling lives. It’s inevitable they will be more successful at work than their naïve peers.

Not everyone is cut out to be a Real Learner. It takes drive to change basic behavior.

Probably fewer than 10% of people who start the book will earn the designation. Does this mean that the Real Learning Project is a failure? Not at all. Those who do become Real Learners are high performers; they make the program worthwhile. Many participants who do not become Real Learners will benefit from bits and pieces of the project; they simply won’t master all of its aspects.

Not For Everybody 

People who are wedded to the concept that schooling is the “one best way” of learning will not buy the informal concept of Real Learning. Schooling that might have been appropriate for a child in an unchanging world is not the way adults learn best in a turbulent environment. Lots of people can’t get this into their heads. They call for courses, instructors, curriculum, and grades. Some argue (absurdly) that this school paraphernalia is a prerequisite for learning.

Making big behavior changes like becoming a Real Learner takes endurance. Some people’s attention span is too short to stay the course. Early on, participants check their Grit scores and mindset. Low scores predict a lack of stick-to-it-iveness. We may produce a skimmable comic-book version for people with no time or attention span.

Many people simply don’t read books. 40% of Americans did not read a single non-fiction book last year. Maybe our web version will appeal to them. Half the people who do read business books only get to page 12 before tossing them aside.

Changing one’s behavior takes perseverance and dedication. You have to believe you are in control. You have to have faith. You assess your situation, write down your goals, and begin having thought experiments. In time, this rewires your brain, making you more purposeful and intelligent. That’s a great reward, to become a confident meta-learner.

This is a long-term process. It’s easy to fall out of the program. Death in the family. Dirty laundry. Overdue bills. Crisis at work. Sick dog. Soccer games. Fender bender. Heavy travel schedule. 60-hour weeks. Doing two people’s jobs. Budget is due. Warning light flashing in car. Brother coming to visit. Let’s see, you were noting your progress daily?

While lots of readers will take some useful ideas from Real Learning, I expect only 7% of them will become practicing Real Learners.

Seven Out Of A hundred 

eaglemedalI’m going to draw on my experience with the Boy Scouts to provide an analogy.

Scouting helped me deal with moving from Texas to Rhode Island to France in 16 months. The Scouting community was my anchor. I led an international troop with boys from 18 countries. I learned many skills and a lot about life.

I am an Eagle Scout, the result of earning 21 merit badges. You get to wear a medal!

For me, becoming an Eagle meant that I’d bought into being trustworthy, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. I would do my best to do my duty to God and my country. At age 13, these were my personal values.

Seven percent of all Boy Scouts become Eagle Scouts.

I’ll be optimistic and hope that 7% of the people who tackle the Real Learning book and exercises become Real Learners, and that they will be as dedicated to Real Learning as I was to Boy Scouts.

Real Learners

medalReal Learners embrace the values of openness, honesty, transparency, sharing, reciprocity, daring, authenticity, tracking, and reflecting.

If attaining Real Learner status were a matter of merit badges, here is what they might be:



Self assessment and goal setting.




Setting up a learning environment.




Adventure. Taking on stretch assignments.




Community building and participation.




Daily Reflection. 15 minutes contemplation.




Working out loud. Shares insights.




Mentoring. Helps others learn.



Meta-learning. Has learned to learn.



You judge a Real Learner by outcomes, not by passing a merit badge test. A Real Learner:

  • Plans how to achieve growth goals.
  • Works smarter and makes an impact.
  • Learns faster and remembers more.
  • Embraces openness and learns out loud.
  • Makes sound learning a lifelong habit.
  • Co-creates knowledge with colleagues.
  • Becomes the person they aspire to be.