Transformational Education > A new way of teaching
Willis Emmons on the three levels of learning
When we talk with new faculty members about the philosophy of teaching at HBS, we often refer to the three levels of learning. And the three levels of learning are as follows. At the most basic level, learning involves knowledge transfer, information transfer. And I think most schools think, first and foremost, about the sheer amount of body of knowledge associated with various disciplines, whether it be finance, or marketing, frameworks, concepts. You could think of knowledge transfer just in the form of our case studies, as you learn about specific companies, industries, etc. That's really the first level of learning.
And the second level of learning begins to get a little more interesting, I think. That's skills development; whether it be analytical skills, decision-making skills, skills in sort of unpacking diagnosis. And this requires more than simply reading information. It involves some form of actually testing out hypotheses, developing tools, etc. And I think for most schools, if you look at those first two levels of learning, knowledge and skill development, that may seem like a pretty impressive achievement, if you're able to develop students along those dimensions.
I think what's very important within the HBS model is the third level of learning. And I'm going to use one word for it, which is attitude, but it encompasses a number of dimensions. And the third level of learning is really helping students learn about their own values, learning about their identity as professionals. Learning the powers of self-reflection, learning how to work with others. These are things that cannot be quantified in a lecture or reading, and they have to, essentially, be worked out through our learning model. They're worked out in the classroom through the give and take of class discussion, interactions with other students, with the instructor. They end up being worked out through our learning teams outside in the study groups, and those types of activities.
And really that level of learning is, I would say, not only the most important, but also the most challenging. As an instructor coming into the school, to imagine not only do I have to find a way to help my students learn content, learn skills, but there's this entirely different dimension around this development of attitudes, lifelong learning, reflection, etc. And that's pretty daunting for a new instructor coming into the program who may say, "I'm an expert in finance," or, "I know a lot about accounting," or, "I've written an incredible dissertation on marketing." But how can I create a transformational experience for students?
Which to really pull that off you have to integrate all three levels of learning. It's not just knowledge and skills, it's really this broader area of the third level.