Tag Archives: 4MAT Learning Cycle

Engage: What Leaders Should Understand About How Learning Happens

All learning includes the asking and answering of four questions. These questions form a cycle of learning. This four-part cycle applies to learning anything. You followed this cycle when you learned to ride a bike, when you learned that second language in high school and when you figured out that new software last week. Ok, maybe, you didn’t really learn that second language. However, I bet if you figured out why it would have something to do with one part of the cycle being skipped.

What happens when we learn?

Current brain research confirms that we travel a four-part cycle when we take in and make meaning of new information. We call this learning cycle 4MAT. Think of something new that you learned recently and ask yourself how you moved through this learning cycle:

Step 1Engage

Something happened and your attention is gained. You explore the question “Why?” Why should I pay attention to this? Why is it important? Meaningful? Relevant?

Step 2Share

You watch, reflect and think about this new information.  You seek out expert thinking. You explore the question, “What?” What should I know about this? What do the experts have to say? What data exists?

Step 3Practice

You move into action. You practice. You explore the question, “How?”  How is this useful? How will I apply it? How does it work?

Step 4Perform

You assess the results of your action and adjust. You do it your way. You explore the question, “If?” If I apply this, what new results will be generated? If I am to be successful in applying this, what accommodations or adaptations will I have to make for my real-world environment?

When any of the four steps of this process is skipped, learning suffers.


Jeanine O’Neill-Blackwell is the President/CEO of 4MAT 4Business®, a global learning and leadership development company. Her most recent book is Engage, The Trainer’s Guide to Learning Styles (Wiley, 2012). You can experience the 4MAT Advanced Instructional Design program on June 5-6 in Bucharest, Romania. Click here to learn more.

4MAT Train-the-Trainer: How Learning Happens

A learner’s preferences indicate where the learner lingers in the learning cycle. Regardless of learning style, every learner moves through all four stages of the 4MAT learning cycle. In The Art of Changing the Brain, Dr. James Zull shares that there are four stages of the Learning Cycle:

  Neuro-speak Translation
1 We have a concrete experience. Something happens
2 We engage in reflective observation and create new connections. We watch and reflect.
3 We generate abstract hypotheses. We think about it.
4 We do active testing of hypotheses, have a new concrete experience and a new learning cycle ensues. We move into action, something happens and the cycle begins again

 4MAT Training model

4MAT and learning styles

When we follow the 4MAT Learning model to design and deliver, we craft experiences that mirror the natural learning cycle.