How to Mold Smarter Learners by Using Patterns – Tip #51

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I would bet anything that all of you reading this right now have a daily morning routine. I know I do. The good thing about a routine is that we don’t have to think about it once it is set. It frees up our minds to think of other things, gets us moving more efficiently and helps us make sense of our day.

Your morning routine is an excellent example of a pattern. A pattern is a repeated, recurrent behavior of a group or individual. But patterns are not limited to the things we do. There are also the patterns that we see around us and patterns we use to make sense of the world.

According to Cambridge neuroscientist Daniel Bor’s “The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning,” pattern recognition is the brain’s way of making connections among a variety of experiences, information and sensations. It allows us to recognize shapes, letters, sounds and tastes. When you look at something that has four legs, fur, a wagging tail and a slobbery mouth, pattern recognition tells you that you are probably looking at a dog. Our ability to recognize patterns enables us to navigate our world and see our life as a cohesive whole, rather than a series of unrelated events.     

Connecting the dots

Tech visionary and late Apple CEO Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” According to Jobs, if you ask creative people how they get their ideas, they will tell you that all they did was connect the dots. Life experiences coupled with knowledge creates a canvas for rich ideas. The more life experiences you have to draw from, the more creativity you can develop.

Smarter Learner Pattern-Building Ideas and Activities

 1. Trial and Error

Learners can infer effects from causes, which can lead to problem-solving. Similar to the Trial and Error: Beng, Beng, Bingo principle.

 2. WWYD? (What Would You Do?)

Emphasizes action and critical thinking, and reinforces the habit of responsibility. In micro-scenarios and interactive stories we always ask learners questions to help them reflect. Reflecting allows them to connect the dots.

 3. Chunking

The first rule of 3-minute learning is to remember that only a small amount of content truly impacts application and performance on the job. As little as this is, it creates a fundamental pattern that links to the bigger picture. Chunks of content facilitate pattern building. 

  4. Pareto Principle, Cause-Effect, Whys?

In the tip “Stop That Dump Truck! Ask Questions to Know What is Important for Learners,” we show how three tools help you detect patterns by asking questions to help you to discover what is important to learners. These are the 80/20 rule, cause-effect and Whys?

  5. Stories

Asking others to tell a story, listening to a story or telling one’s own story are all pattern-recognition and -building exercises. Asking learners about a story and “How They Experience” something, allows them to recognize a good or bad pattern, allows them to self-correct patterns, and helps them learn faster. 

Patterns Work Both Ways – They Break Bad Ones, Encourage Good Ones

As designers, we should recognize which approaches work positively and which do not, and adjust accordingly. As human beings we all have patterns, some that we see and some that we don’t. We need to be aware of our own patterns.

Bor also states,

This basically means that patterns are individualistic; one person’s patterns may not be the same as another’s. In learning design, while using patterns is effective, we need to keep an eye and make sure learners identify and use the right patterns.

Discouraging and Encouraging Behavioral Patterns

In creating scenarios and asking learners to make choices, we use the technique of breaking patterns.  We allow learners to discover appropriate or inappropriate paths and/or decisions. We discourage the wrong ones while encouraging learners to take the right paths. 


Pattern recognition and building is crucial to people’s ability to create and understand meaning. Using activities that encourage use of patterns helps learners learn faster and become smarter. Remember, as trainers and designers, all we can do is help learners think in patterns, and they will do the rest.  


Ravenous Brain by Daniel Bor

Tip #24: Chunking 3-Minute Learning

Tip #48: Stop That Dump Truck! Ask Questions to Know What is Important for Learners

Ray Jimenez, PhD

Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”