Front-End & Back-End Learning

David Nicoll, Ph.D
5 min readApr 14, 2022

An exploration of why each of us needs to augument all of our formal educational efforts with a strong dose of self-directed, real-world learning experiments.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

The world we’re living in right now is characterized by intricate global connections, accelerating rates of change, and unprecedented levels of complexity.

Which — when it comes to learning — means that besides the formal degrees and advanced training certificates we’ve earned, each of us needs to know how to design and implement real-worle learning eperiments that transform the knowledge we’ve acquired in school or at a professional training program into a variety of real-world learning efforts. Learning efforts that help us accomplish three crucial tasks:

  1. Improve the key skills we already have,
  2. Develop the new skills we need to succeed at work and in our lives, and
  3. Reframe our outdated modes of thinking.

Whether we’re trying to strengthen existing skills, develop new ones, or reframe outdated beliefs, this kind of learning takes time. Time to explore, to think through, and to practice, practice and then practice some more.

A New 21st Century Learning Equation

The truth is, months and months, not days or weeks, of hard, disciplined work are required to achieve acceptable levels of personal or professional expertise. It also takes the support of trusted Thought Partners and Learning Companions, people who know about what it takes, people who are willing to stand beside you through your toughest, most challenging learning-journey moments.

In the real world, learning is a nuanced process, one that is asking the learner to acquire, absorb, and transform newly acquired knowledge into complex, situationally contextualized real-world skills.

In addition, it’s a multi-step sequence that takes time because it demands a variety of learning skills that most of us have never acquired. And because, on our own, it’s hard to marshal the discipline and the courage required to face the challenges involved in any deep learning effort.

Essentially, if we truly want to acquire the new knowledge and develop the complex new skills this century is demanding, we…



David Nicoll, Ph.D

I’m a dad, a reader, writer, and thought partner for individuals looking to improve their lives. My passion is learning and meeting this century’s challenges.