3 Learner Archetypes and Approaches for Successful Skill Learning

What learner archetype are you and how do you learn?

Learning is hard. Especially when you’re not using the right approach based on goals.

After reading this, you should be able to tell what learner archetype you are, which will help you define your learning goals. Moreover, based on your archetype, you’ll be able to choose the right approach for learning new skills more successfully.


3 Learner Archetypes

1. The Jack-of-all-trades

“Jack of all trades, master of none.”

Somehow the term jack-of-all-trades has gotten a bad reputation, especially after the Industrial Revolution. If we are to believe Darwin’s theory, then aren’t jacks of all trades more adaptable?

Truth is, during a zombie apocalypse (it’s a thing, right?), I’d much rather be with my friend Kenneth who can do all sorts of things like wood-working, blacksmithing, farming, analytical thinking, and many more things, then to be with an expert sniper.

Whatever you throw at this guy, he’ll do it. He’ll always be happy to do it because for him, it’s a new challenge to take on and a new valuable skill to learn.

I’d argue that he’d be a better programmer than most professional programmers because he’s open to see and hear different perspectives.

2. The Specialist

The Specialist is the king of the Industrial Revolution, and remains to this day. The Specialist focuses on a select few things and excels at them. They’ve got high paying jobs and are in high demand for specific tasks.

A true specialist learns a few of skills within the same realm of competence.

They’re the people you seek to get advice from their field of expertise. If I want to learn Yoga, I’ll go to an instructor that has high bodily-kinesthetic, naturalist, and existential competence.

The Specialist is a teacher, a coach or a mentor. Surround yourself with specialists and you’ll raise your competence by osmosis.

3. The Polymath

The Jack-of-all-trades vs The Specialist is seeing things in black & white. The Polymath sits somewhere in between.

I call myself a polymath. A polymath is best described as a master of some. They have maybe 3–5 very strong competences, with the remaining being probably a bit lower than the jack-of-all-trades.

A polymath is someone good enough to perform in several industries and thrive in them.The most famous polymath was Leonardo Da Vinci, who performed incredibly well in painting, engineering, and many other fields.

I consider myself a polymath because I can find a job as a programmer, photographer or writer, for example.


Which archetype is the most skilled?

Let’s examine abstractly how each would fare on the learning curve for 4 different skills:

The Jack-of-all-trades

Average proficiency on many skills

Average proficiency on many skills

The Specialist

Really strong proficiency on few skills

Really strong proficiency on few skills

The Polymath

Strong proficiency on some skills

Strong proficiency on some skills

Can you make a decisive conclusion on who is the most skilled reading these graphs?

Neither can I.

This is essentially a fruitless question as it is circumstantial. There are situations where jacks-of-all-trades have the upper hand. Other situations are better handled by specialists or polymaths.

One thing I’d note is that when it comes to creativity, 1+1 ≠ 2.

“Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.” — Scott Adams

As a result, one would think the jack-of-all-trades and polymaths would have the advantage here.

Not necessarily.

What’s the difference between someone who’s 85% logical and one who’s 100% logical (if that even exists)?

Nuances.

On anything logical, the specialist will go way beyond the surface level and will make fewer mistakes jacks-of-all-trades or polymaths might make. And there are certainly tons of professions better handled by specialists.

As such, here’s how to view competence:

Specialists ≠ Polymaths ≠ Jack-of-all-trades

You wouldn’t compare apples to oranges, would you?


3 Approaches for Successful Skill Learning

1. Easy

If you want the easy approach, work with your current strengths.

  1. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses

  2. Find skills that work in favour of your strengths.

  3. Break skills down into manageable chunks.

  4. Learn a few of these sub-skills every month.

With this approach, you’ll soon become a master in few skills. The world needs hyper-specialized people like that.

2. Balanced

This is the path I’ve chosen. This leads to either polymathy or becoming a jack-of-all-trades.

  1. Find skills that work both your strengths and weaknesses.

  2. Break skills down into manageable chunks.

  3. Choose sub-skills based on how they work your personality, independently from your own strengths or weaknesses.

  4. Learn a few of these sub-skills every month.

By following this path, you’ll essentially become what Emilie Wapnick calls a Multipotentialite.

The world needs people like that who will step up and do things even if it doesn’t come naturally. They’re your best chances of survival in crisis situations.

3. Hard

This is the path of those who love a hard challenge. These people are the most adaptable. They tend to become polymaths.

  1. Find skills that work with your weaknesses.

  2. Break skills down into manageable chunks.

  3. Choose sub-skills that are most against your weaknesses.

  4. Learn a few of these sub-skills every month.

This path goes against the popular “focus on your strengths” advice. But you know what, both are good advice, even if contradictory.

The world needs fearless people like that — people who’ll take on any challenges. They’re your problem solvers. They’re the people you go for a listening ear and for thinking creatively about solutions to problems.


Conclusion

As you can see, there’s no right or wrong. Everyone has a role to play. I can’t tell you that the balanced way is the way to go, because it’s really a matter of choice.

  • What archetype are you?

  • Are you satisfied with that? Why? Why not?

  • Which of the three approaches to learning do you use most frequently?

  • Is it working for you? Why? Why not?

Now that you know the different approaches, you can thrive as the archetype of your choice. And if you had any doubts about if your archetype was the right choice for you, I hope you found your answers!

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