What are the Different Levels of Learning?

There are four levels of learning that we can apply to any teaching situation, and they must be taught in order.

  • Rote learning is memorization. Watch someone do something, then repeat it.
  • Understanding is how something works.
  • Application is why something works.
  • Correlation is how to do something in a new situation.

Here is a simple example of how that all works in teaching firearms:

  • Rote: Put the bullets in, release the safety, line up the sights, pull the trigger.
  • Understanding: How the gun works, how a bullet works, how rifling works, how wind effects bullets, etc.
  • Application: Which is the right gun for the right job? How to apply advanced physics to a long range shot, etc. At this point a student would be completely comfortable with a variety of firearms and their uses. This is the place most training stops.
  • Correlation: How to use the gun when someone is shooting at you. In other words how to apply thinking to the previous three steps, allowing you to use your training in new, real-life situations.

Our goal is to teach correlation, or thinking, but it’s impossible to get to the thinking stage without accomplishing training in the first three levels. In the above example, if you hand someone a gun for the first time, you put in the bullets, then you send that student to war where he or she is being shot at, that student may not even be able to get the safety off. But if you go through the steps, IN ORDER, the student will move through the education process in an orderly fashion and be able to think under stress.

Teaching rote, understanding, and application can be done in a classroom or field training situation. Most training stops there and skips the most valuable step: correlation. Skipping correlation does not give the student an opportunity to learn how to use his/her new skills in a real life situation. We must teach thinking. We must give students the opportunity to use their learning at the highest possible level.

We teach correlation through simulation. Fire departments train in fire simulators. Police train in bad guy shooting simulators. Scuba instructors train in swimming pools, etc.

Regardless of what you are teaching, teach the levels of learning in order, and always try to get to correlation. Give your students the opportunity to think in the toughest of situations.