Beliefs about Teaching and Learning: 7 Barriers to Professional Growth and Development

by Bhavesh

Most adults develop 7 beliefs about teaching and learning that become barriers to their professional growth and development. Presented are these beliefs and their corrections.

Learning and growth stagnate when students and their teachers buy into 7 misguided beliefs about teaching and learning, especially when the students are adult professionals.

Hang on to your hats because I am sure you will find at least one belief in this article that you hold near and dear and will fight fiercely to keep.

Please don't forget to participate in the polls, say your piece in the debate and share your thoughts at the end. Also check out the many supporting resources if you feel so inspired.

Beliefs that Prevent Professional Development

And beliefs that support it

Exceptional students in professional development share certain qualities that allow them to learn more effectively than others. However, there are many false beliefs and misconceptions, shared both by students and their teachers, that get in the way of students acquiring and developing these qualities. When teachers and students correct these beliefs, learning and professional development become more effective and accessible for all students. We discuss 7 such beliefs that are at the core of ineffective learning in the world of professional development.

"If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things." ~ Rene Decartes

What Makes a Great Student?

Qualities of an Exceptional Learner

Think about the time when you were in the 6th or 7th grade. Perhaps you remember a student in your class who always aced all subjects. (Or was it you?) No matter who the teacher was. No matter what the subject matter was. No matter where, when or how the subjects were taught. While the rest of us struggled, got by or tried to catch up, she effortlessly excelled at every subject and also found the time to play sports, lead the debate team and gossip about celebrities. The whole package, as they call it.

What made her such an exceptional student? Some of her success could obviously be attributed to her natural gifts and talents. You may also agree, however, that she possessed some attitudinal qualities - whether they were natural or nurtured - that contributed to her success.

In my work as a trainer to the corporate world, I have noticed some parallels between a great school student and a great adult learner. They share some qualities that make them great students. While we don't control our natural gifts and talents, the good news is that these qualities can be nurtured, acquired and developed by most of us.

However, there are many wrong beliefs about learning, held by both teachers and students, that make it difficult for the students to develop these qualities. These beliefs need to be addressed and corrected before an adult professional can be effective at learning. Specifically, there are 7 such mistaken beliefs that stand in the way of a student's ability to be an exceptional learner.

Which Qualities Make a Better Student?

Cynicism or Trust?
Curiosity or Indifference?
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Humility or Arrogance?
Confidence or Self-doubt?
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In my experience, trust, curiosity, humility and self-confidence are the qualities that help a student become exceptional at learning.

"Think with your whole body." ~ Taisen Deshimaru

Belief #1: Learning is a Cognitive, Intellectual Process

Truth: Learning is a series of "aha!" moments

Child psychologists tell us that most of a child's development happens before the age of 6, when her cognitive brain is not yet fully formed. Strangely enough, this is also the time when she effortlessly absorbs everything she encounters.

As we get a little older and our cognitive brain begins to form, we start to make judgments and form opinions about things. As we mature in our cognitive abilities, we form a worldview. We filter information to let in what agreeLearning_is_a_series_of_aha_momentss with that worldview and reject the rest. This filter helps us function in life by limiting the amount of information we have to deal with. But when it comes to learning, it gets in the way.

This is why, when we are intellectually engaged, we are not learning. In my experience both in learning and teaching, cognitive intelligence actually slows down learning. The faculty that helps us learn is our intuition, which is what children use to absorb large amounts of information. This is also the reason why computers cannot learn, despite the fact that their capacity for processing information is often many times that of a human brain.

We are accessing our intuition when we get an insight into a problem that we are trying to figure out. These flashes of insights are often known as aha! moments or Eureka! moments. When such a moment happens, we cut through the stuff that's made of old ideas, thoughts and beliefs and have a brief insight into the source of inspiration that we all have access to. After such a moment happens, something inside of us changes and our mind never goes back to its original state.

Such a change is exhilarating, uplifting and lasting and it's the true definition of learning.

“Life is a succession of lessons, which must be lived to be understood.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Belief #2. “Getting a Certificate” Means Mastery

Truth: Sustained change in behavior is mastery

Most certifications are designed to test our intellect and memory. They test us on how much information we have collected about the subject and whether we can solve a problem intellectually. We often use the "passing of a test" to figure out whether we have mastered a subject.

In most skills, especially in business training, when we pass a test, we are only one-fourth of the way to true mastery. True learning takes us from head to heart, from heart to gut and from gut to actions. In other words, when we truly master a skill, we first engage with the intellectual subject-matter with our heart. Over time, we allow it to become a part of our sub-conscious or gut. This then allows us to transfer our new-found knowledge to a new behavior. When our behavior changes, our actions produce different results. Most professional training is about getting different results from our actions. If our behaviors don't change, our results don't change either, and that's a waste of a lot of money, time and energy that so many organizations put into training their people.

That's why the true measure of mastery is not a certificate but a behavioral change that produces better results.

Perspectives on Learning and Teaching

Satori Quotes: An Insight Into Nothingness
Satori quotes is a collection of quotes and sayings that are chosen to give us a taste of the aha! moment, of what it's like to break through the mind and emerge into nothingness.

Beliefs About Learning
Based on the assumption that education begins in the womb and continues throughout life, this article discusses many pitfalls of "brain-based" learning.

Inspirational Quotes for Teachers
This article presents an uplifting collection of words of wisdom for teachers in various aspects of teaching.

Portrait of a kitten
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"It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument." ~ William G. McAdoo

Belief #3: A Smarter Student is a Better Student

Truth: A humble student is the best student

You may have heard the saying: "You can't teach anything to the person who knows everything."

It helps to have a level of cognitive sharpness in learning, especially when the material to be learned demands cognitive engagement. However, being "smart" for most adults often means one or more of the following things:

  • Having a large repository of knowledge or memorized facts.
  • Having well-formed opinions and arguments for the subject matter.
  • Having a convincing argument for or against everything.

All of the above views of smartness inhibit learning, not support it. If it helps, it only helps to the extent that when a student becomes emotionally engaged with the material, it helps her become a better learner.

A gap must be found in the student's mind where it's accepted by the student that she does not know enough about the subject-matter. The wider and deeper the gap, the more effective the learning experience for both the student and the teacher.

Articles Related to Professional Development

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A high performing organization consists of highly productive people who are deeply engaged with their work. This article examines the importance of awareness in such organizations.
Failure in sales can happen not because salespeople don't use selling systems, as commonly accepted, but because of them. Presented is an alternative: a Non-System.
Leader vs Manager uses three movies - Batman, Jurassic Park and Wall Street - to dispel some of the most common myths about what it means to be a leader versus a manager.

Wikipedia on Learning

Learning is acquiring new or modifying existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is ...

"Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned." ~ Mark Twain

Belief #4: Students with High Self-Esteem Learn Better

Truth: Students who have dropped their self-image learn the most

You might have heard that some forms of animals, such as a lizard or a snake, shed their skin. What happens to these animals if they don't shed their skin? Their skin is dead but they are alive. They grow but the skin does not. Eventually, if they don't poke a hole and crawl out, they suffocate and die. 

Similarly, human beings have a layer of invisible Dropping-Self-Imageskin that's made of social, parental and psychological conditioning. This skin, often known as comfort zone, defines what we think we can and cannot do. It's made of beliefs. It's made of rules: "shoulds" and "should-nots," "musts" and "must-nots," "cans" and "can-nots." When we choose not to break through our comfort zones, we stagnate. Collectively, this conditioning defines our self-image or self-concept. This self-image, even a healthy one, can become our metaphorical grave if we don't poke holes in it and grow beyond it.

Learning, true learning, happens outside of our comfort zone, not inside of it. That's why, when we cling to our self-image, we inhibit learning and growth.

"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." ~ Lao Tzu

Belief #5: You Must Strive to Learn

Truth: You must let go in order to learn

Adult learning often takes its inspiration from the world of sports. We are often taught that we have to push our brain to learn something new, like lifting an extra pound of weight in the gym or biking an extra mile. There is certainly some place for such strategies when we develop our brains. But such strategies are not helpful in mastering a subject.

Learning is very natural to us humans, even when we are not a child any more. It's in our basic nature to grow throughout our lives. Have you seen a flower strive to blossom? Have you ever seen a tree working really hard to grow?  A relaxed mind is more conducive to learning than a stressed mind. Learning requires that we let go of trying hard, not work harder.

Resources for Teachers

And Professional Training Executives
Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist and Classroom T...

In this book, written by an author who is both a neurologist and a classroom teacher, Judy Willis combs through brain research and pulls out the information that is most valid a...

Task-Based Language Learning - Insights from and for L2 Writing (Task-Based Language Teaching)

The book seeks to enlarge the theoretical scope, research agenda, and practices associated with TBLT in a two-way dynamic, by exploring how insights from writing might reconfigu...

Reconsidering Change Management: Applying Evidence-Based Insights in Change Management Practice (...

Despite the popularity of organizational change management, the question arises whether its prescriptions and dominant beliefs and practices are based on solid and convergent ev...


“I want you to be everything that's you, deep at the center of your being.” ~ Confucius

Belief #6: Learning is Something to Do

Truth: Learning happens to us when we open up to it

Learning is often associated with reading books and taking classes. These things can certainly stimulate learning. But just because we read books and take classes does not necessarily mean we are learning. An external source is entirely unnecessary for us to learn. Learning comes from inside us where the source of all learning resides. We just need a reminder and a catalyst from the outside. Learning happens naturally when we allow ourselves to open up to it.

Learning in Business-Building

How learning can help a business thrive

What You Thought Your Business Would Be
Statistics tells us that over 90% of new businesses fail in their first five years of operation. This articles proposes that the reason is inadequate and improper preparedness of business owners. It also offers tools and resources for lasting success in business-building.

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"True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing." ~ Socrates

Belief #7: End Result of Learning is Knowing Everything

Truth: The ultimate aim of learning is to realize that we know nothing

True learning takes us to the point where realize how little we know. It's impossible to know everything with our cognitive faculties as intellect has its limits. When we come to this understanding, we give up wanting to know everything and wisdom dawns. When we accept the limits of our cognitive abilities, we begin to access other faculties for learning, such as intuition, that were always accessible to us but were being ignored.

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A Successful Student in Classroom is a Successful Person in Life

Explore: Child in the Rain
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Experience True Learning

At Awayre, LLC

Awayre Business Coaching
Whether it's a training program for dozens of participants or a coaching session with one individual, the learning programs at Awayre, LLC are built on "Insight Based Learning" as a foundational principle. Often called Business Workout Sessions, these learning sessions leave participants refreshed, rejuvenated and inspired and cover issues such as sales and marketing, leadership and management and business-building.

Which Belief about Teaching and Learning

Is the biggest barrier to professional growth and development?
Beliefs about Teaching and Learning
Beliefs about Teaching and Learning
Updated: 03/19/2012, Bhavesh
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?

What Did You Learn about Learning and Teaching?

Bhavesh on 03/07/2012

Hi Andy, I love your insight that "learning differs from programming." There is a good chance that you are already pretty good at this approach to learning. I am sure you have had moments when you were trying to figure something out and had an "aha!" moment, even a genius attack, out of the blue. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your insight.

AndyGerenraich on 03/06/2012

I really liked the shedding skin analogy for comfort zone. I suppose I learned that learning and teaching is organic--how it differs from programming. I just hope I can master this approach to learning...

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