Acknowledging and dealing with unexpected learning moments and outcomesDemonstrates an understanding of learning as a continuous processKnowledge of learning as a continuous processLearning to learnSkill to reflect and adjust the learning process

Walking Baby and Competence Development

Learning is a complex process that involves many phases. It is seldom linear—it goes up and down. Understanding this and appreciating the downs as an inextricable part of learning can help us persevere in our learning process. In this article we invite you to analyze the metaphor of a walking baby as an example for mastering our own competences.

Why did I choose this tool?

In my experience as a lifelong learner, I have found that understanding the ups and downs of the learning process is important for developing tolerance and stamina that are so needed if we want to follow through and not give up half way. Therefore, this tool helps us develop the competence to acknowledge and deal with unexpected learning moments and outcomes.

How does this apply to being a trainer?

When trainers better understand the different stages of the learning process, it helps them become better learners and also to be better at helping others learn. It is important for trainers to have the meta-awareness of different phases of learning so as to know how to overcome any learning difficulties if they arise. This tool helps develop trainers’ competence to acknowledge and deal with unexpected learning moments and outcomes. 


There are several theories on the necessary parts of the learning process. Illeris (2007) suggests that the most basic understanding of what happens during learning is that the learning process itself contains two processes, interaction and acquisition. Interaction involves a contact between the individual and their environment. Acquisition is the psychological processing taking place in the individual as a product of impulses formed during the interaction with the environment. Acquisition normally involves a linkage between the new impulses and influences and the relevant learning earlier acquired (p.21).

Another model suggested by Hattie and Donoghu (2016) makes a distinction between the acquisition phase and consolidation phase. During the acquisition phase, the learner receives information and stores it in their short term memory, while during the consolidation phase, the learner then needs to actively process and rehearse the material so that the knowledge is sent to their long-term memory. During both phases there can be a retrieval process, which involves transferring the knowledge from long-term memory back into short-term working memory.

Each phase has corresponding challenges, so developing awareness of these phases can help raise the tolerance towards frustrations that can arise during the learning process.


Read the following story:

I remember the first steps of a baby who was 12 months old. Just one step was all this little creature could manage to do before it would fall. Eventually, the baby managed to go from one step to two steps, and then plateaued for a while. For the next couple of months this child could walk no more than these two steps before it would fall. Then a few days after its first birthday, I noticed the infant could make four steps. That same day, it doubled the achievement and got to eight steps. The next day, it seemed to have no further progress than these eight steps, but in the late afternoon it managed to get to sixteen before it fell. The same evening the child exceeded thirty steps. Once it broke its barrier, the child could walk, so on that day it mastered the act of walking. There seem to be two stages in the commencement of walking. I call them the initial access and consolidation. The initial access is when you find yourself able to access a certain state, skill, competence or knowledge but you cannot maintain it for long, just like a baby is finally able to access the experience of walking. It finally knows what it feels like, but it only lasts a single step, maybe two and then it is over.

The consolidation stage is the long process of going from walking one step to being able to walk around the house. In this stage, you normally spend frustratingly long time seemingly without any meaningful progress and then suddenly, within a very short period, you make huge progress and arrive at full consolidation. It’s like this baby plateauing at two steps for months and then suddenly, in the space of two days, becoming able to walk. To the casual observer, it may look as if the child learned to walk in just two days, but in reality, it did it over three months. It is the constant practice over the three months that enabled the sudden progress in the last two days.

Think back of some of your own learning experiences that remind you of the baby’s adventure in learning how to walk. Reflect upon it and write a story about it.

This tool is adapted from the Mindfulness Program developed by Google for its staff. More on it can be found in the book Search Inside Yourself by Chade Meng Tan (2012) (p.66)

Reflection questions

  • Can you remember the initial access and the consolidation phases of your learning?
  • How difficult was to transition from one phase to another?
  • How long did it take?
  • How did you feel in each of the two phases?
  • Try to remember the exact moment when you became able to access the targeted skill, knowledge or competence on demand. How did you feel?
  • What more would you like to learn about this topic?

Author of the article: Tatjana Glogovac

Tatjana Glogovac is a strong believer in the power of humanistic education and approaching every person she works with as a special and unique human being. She has a BA and MA in English Language and Literature Teaching and another MA in Humanistic Sciences in Philology (Erasmus Mundus scholarship), where she wrote her thesis about cognitive biases in education. She has international experience as a personal development writer, yoga and meditation teacher, and a youth circus teacher. Tatjana has been active in the fields of digital learning and developing emotional intelligence in youth. The last project she worked on was Erasmus+ strategic partnership project “The Colors of Feelings and Needs”, the aim of which is to support youth in acquiring and developing the ability to identify, express, interpret and reflect upon their own feelings and needs. Tatjana is passionate about bringing mindfulness, embodiment and dance practices into formal and non-formal education.

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Editor: Dagna Gmitrowicz

Dagna Gmitrowicz – a senior trainer in the field of nonformal education, conducting international/national training and facilitating conferences since 2001. Creator of innovative educational tools and curriculum – Academy of Nonformal Education (PAJP), TOSCA training cycle, learning cycle in BECC Bridge to Cultural Centres, Colours and Needs cards, and many more. Member of several international trainers’ pools (It’s up to Me, TOSCA, European Solidarity Corp Polish NA pool and other). The member of the International Society for Self-Directed Learning after giving a lecture during SSDL Symposium 2020 in USA/Florida. Dagna Gmitrowicz is also a professional painter, and performer actively participating in a cultural scene in Germany and Poland, actively supporting cultural events and projects.
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This tool is adapted from the Mindfulness Program developed by Google for its staff. More on it can be found in the book Search Inside Yourself by Chade Meng Tan (2012) (p.66)John A C Hattie & Gregory M Donoghue. Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model. Science of Learning volume 1, Article number: 16013 (2016) Knud Illeries „How we learn - learning and non-learning in school and beyond” by “The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom, Second Edition (2006)

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