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Book Summary: Hardwired to Learn – Leveraging the Self-Sustaining Power of Lifelong Learning

Do you buy into any of the following learning myths?

  • Everybody has a “learning style.”
  • Intelligence is a fixed quality.
  • 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert.

DON’T SELL YOURSELF SHORT!

Your brain has a LIMITLESS CAPACITY TO LEARN new things!
Yes, even through middle age and toward the end of life.
In Hardwired to Learn, learning expert Teri Hart explains that being a successful, lifelong learner depends on one thing more than anything else:
THE RIGHT MINDSET.

In this summary for Hardwired to Learn: Leveraging the Self-Sustaining Power of Lifelong Learning, learning expert Teri Hart explains that being a successful, lifelong learner depends on one thing more than anything else: the right mindset. Your brain has a limitless capacity to learn new things, even through middle age and toward the end of life.

Learn more in this book summary.

[Book Summary] Hardwired to Learn: Leveraging the Self-Sustaining Power of Lifelong Learning

Content Summary

Genres
Recommendation
Take-Aways
Summary
Table of Contents
Overview
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Video and Podcast

Genres

Analytical, Scientific, Inspiring, Business, Education, Success Self-Help

Recommendation

Through an adept synthesis of research – particularly in learning theory and neuroscience – 25-year learning expert and future of work strategist Teri Hart weaves history, economics, technology, psychology, medicine and sociology into a fascinating exploration of the role of mind and body in learning. Her expertly blended insights will convince you of the human mind’s remarkable ability to learn nearly anything at any age.

Take-Aways

  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution demands massive employee reskilling and upskilling across the workforce.
  • Organizations will require more “Human Intelligence” to balance and work with Artificial Intelligence.
  • Neuroscience has revealed more about learning in the past 20 years than the previous 200.
  • Brain science reveals your capacity to learn is limitless and ageless.
  • You learn through effort. Apply and practice learning as you would any other skill.
  • Beware five main categories of bias that impair your ability to learn.
  • True learning is hard and will make you uncomfortable. Track your progress, and don’t give up.
  • Attend to your physical well-being to help your mind repair itself and grow.

Summary

The Fourth Industrial Revolution demands massive employee reskilling and upskilling across the workforce.

Digitization, now in its sixth decade, ushered in a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend to digital transformation, with more organizations ramping up their efforts at digitization, remote work and automation. 4IR could prove even more disruptive than the three previous phases of the Industrial Revolution, in which society and the economy transitioned from agriculture to industry, then factory to services, and thirdly toward information, computerization and data.

These broad shifts, and the current 4IR transition to digitization, usher in requirements for new skills and knowledge. The jobs of the future demand massive re-skilling throughout the labor force, and a transition toward humans working more closely with machines and artificial intelligence (AI). As firms like Amazon – with more than a million workers – automate more of their operations, they are planning for the enormous learning employees will need to perform the higher-level cognitive functions required to work effectively with robots. Amazon intends to spend close to one billion dollars on employee learning in the coming years, starting with its 100,000 warehouse workers.

Organizations will require more “Human Intelligence” to balance and work with Artificial Intelligence.

Before the pandemic, business leaders flagged skill shortages third among their 10 greatest threats. Human Intelligence – critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving and teamwork– will prove even more valuable over time. Interpretation of AI’s outputs and the resulting insights requires complex human skills.

Many aspects of mechanized work require sophisticated human knowledge to facilitate machine intelligence. Machines and AI don’t innovate, create, spot mistakes or, on their own, find insights that lead to opportunities. Of the World Economic Forum’s top 15 skills for 2025 – those it predicts employers will demand most – machines can perform only a few on their own. Firms that invest in developing their employees’ Human Intelligence grow more agile, resilient, adaptable and stress resistant.

“Human Intelligence (HI) is more important than ever. Humans will be needed to focus on managing, advising, decision-making, reasoning, communicating, and interacting with an increasingly mechanized world.”

When workers and firms take the long view in business, they regard learning expenses as investments in their firm’s and employees’ future. AT&T, for example, set aside $1 billion to support its 250,000 person workforce in pursuing skill upgrades and college degrees. In 2018, McDonald’s invested $150 million to fund a five-year education program for its 400,000 employees. Target and Walmart announced similar plans in 2021.

By helping their employees upskill, learn, and chart their own work and career paths – ideally including internal markets for jobs and assignments – organizations unleash a tide of performance improvement and resilience. Add purpose and meaningful work to boost the effect dramatically. When leaders grant autonomy, mastery, and relatedness – connections to colleagues and others – they leverage the elements of perhaps the most powerful human motivation doctrines: Self-Determination Theory. This concept holds that each person generates his or her own motivation in pursuit of self-actualization – not money or accolades. Nourish self-determination to improve learning, engagement, effort and performance outcomes.

Neuroscience has revealed more about learning in the past 20 years than the previous 200.

Over the past 1,500 years or so, philosophers and psychologists developed theories of learning. These began in Ancient Greece with Plato and Aristotle’s notion that your brain, at birth, contains everything you will ever learn; you draw on it through experience and reflection. It wasn’t until the 17th century that philosopher John Locke rejected the idea of innate knowledge, introduced agency, and sparked a revolution in studying how people learn.

“Learning how to learn is the key to developing new skills and increasing knowledge.”

The 20th century demolished more myths about the limitations of human learning. Professor Carol Dweck, Dr. Kimberly Noble and others smashed the pervasive misconception that people possess fixed intelligence. The brain has limitless capacity to learn new things, even through middle age and toward the end of life. Many people, even educators, still subscribe to the fallacy that different people learn better in accordance with divergent styles. People do have learning preferences, but these proclivities do not reflect how well they actually learn. You prove more likely to learn when you disrupt your preferences and force yourself to take in information in less comfortable ways.

Much of today’s teaching styles draw from 20th-century theories of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. Behaviorism posits you learn best through a series of rewards and punishments. Cognitivism says you build learning atop other learning, merging the old and new. Cognitivism, as does constructivism, advocates self-directed learning.

“In the past 20 years, with advances in neuroscience, we have learned significantly more about ourselves and how we learn than in the last 200.”

These theories remain relevant and useful and, in many ways, brain science supports them. However, in the past two decades, the field of neuroscience has revealed far more about how humans learn than all prior theories combined. Don’t make the mistake of falling back on 20th-century teaching styles alone. Weave in new understandings from science to continually improve your learning processes.

Brain science reveals your capacity to learn is limitless and ageless.

You mature and change through life, as do your values and beliefs. When you view your life as a continuous quest for development and improvement, you fuel a growth mind-set that facilitates lifelong learning. Your brain’s learning infrastructure contains about 86 billion neurons tied up with each other through hundreds of trillions of connections named synapses. Neuroscience proves that your brain creates new cells (neurogenesis) and new connections throughout your life in a process called neuroplasticity.

“The basic idea of neuroplasticity is that brain activity stimulates the brain to reorganize its connections.”

In the mid-20th century, psychologist Donald Hebb quipped that “what fires together, wires together.” He meant that when you use parts of your brain repeatedly, you make new connections and those connections grow stronger, helping you remember and learn. Today’s neuroscience proves Hebb correct and shows that your capacity to learn new things is limitless and ageless. In a fascinating 1986 study with nuns as subjects, researchers learned that continued education and challenging mental activity into old age – such as learning a musical instrument or a new language – create new neural pathways and reduce the likelihood of contracting Alzheimer’s disease.

“Research shows that older brains are better at complex problem-solving and information synthesis than younger brains.”

Researchers believe mentally active people create additional “lanes” of neural pathways, giving them reserves. Many of the nuns likely had Alzheimer’s but didn’t exhibit symptoms because they could draw on reserves that others who exhibited symptoms may lack.

You can reverse the effects of severe brain damage through effort. For example, after neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke that badly damaged the left side of her brain, she worked intensely for eight years to teach the right side of her brain to do what the left side used to do – walking, talking and elements of thinking.

You learn through effort. Apply and practice learning as you would any other skill.

Believe you can learn and achieve related goals. Current research should convince you that you can. You must intrinsically want to learn, not just want good grades or a promotion, for example; you need to have a genuine interest. Remain open to change; question everything, including what you’ve learned from listening to a talk or reading a book. Apply and practice what you learn; teach it as you learn. This improves your approach and deepens the synaptic connections in your brain that cement the learning and bake it into memory. Learn by reflecting on and discussing your failures; never bury them.

Remember that about 95% of your thinking occurs unconsciously – instinctually. You make decisions using shortcuts – patterns and assumptions you form throughout your life. The rest of your thinking occurs more slowly and consciously, as when you set out to solve a puzzle. You can’t apply slow thinking to everything – you would exhaust yourself early each morning – but try to perform more mindful thinking.

Beware of five main categories of bias that impair your ability to learn.

Watch for five main categories of bias. First, you crave simplicity – simple stories featuring cause and effect. Resist this. Life proves complex, as must your thinking. Second, know that you unconsciously look for information and people that agree with your positions, especially your values and morals. Deliberately seek out opposing views. Third, everyone wants to belong. You might conform with the popular view to do so. Don’t. Think authentically. Fourth, resist the need to control things. Your attempts at control impede change and close off your mind to new ideas. Finally, your powerful ego and identity can cause you to shut out uncomfortable or challenging ideas. Know this and resist pulling away from contrary opinions and learning.

“When I reflect on all the things that hold us back from our potential to learn, I notice that they all have one thing in common: our mind-set.”

Build capacity to learn by linking your learning goals to your identity and purpose. Think about your values, interests and strengths to identify a long-term goal or purpose to work toward. When you do a thing for a larger purpose, you create resilience that helps you stick to it through challenges. Take time to reflect on your experiences, so you can make connections between them, find consistencies and test what you learned. Forget what you know sometimes, and open up. Listen to others’ ideas; ask questions and challenge your assumptions. Regard yourself as a work in progress, always learning, never assuming you know it all. Approach the world with curiosity.

True learning is hard and will make you uncomfortable. Track your progress, and don’t give up.

Plan learning, set goals and undertake intentional practice. Tell people about your goals and publicize them to increase your commitment. Within your learning plan, adopt a system of practice, including methods and routines. Track and measure your progress.

“Learning something difficult results in much more brain activity and development than learning something that is comfortable or that you are good at learning.”

Reflect on your progress and setbacks to build the patterns and memories that produce learning. Real learning will make you uncomfortable; it should not be easy. Embrace the hard path, including various mediums and approaches, where you learn and from whom. Vary what you learn and choose topics you find difficult, not easy.

Take your time. Learn in chunks at intervals. As in learning to ski, for example, you’ll metaphorically fall, suffer bruising, and may want to quit, but get up and continue.

Attend to your physical well-being to help your mind repair itself and grow.

Medical and neuroscientific research illustrate the connections between the body and mind. As you age, synaptic connections and pathways in your brain become more fully developed because your brain prunes away unused connections.

Exercise, diet and sleep can stop, and even reverse, synaptic decline.

“When we take care of our bodies, we take care of our brains – and vice versa.”

Eat foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids and avoid excessive sugars. Practice mindfulness, including yoga, meditation and breathing. Take breaks from learning and doing to give your mind the space it needs to catalog what you learned and spark new ideas.

About the author

Teri Hart, an Ironman triathlete and yogini, has built a career in learning leadership across several Fortune 500 and Global 500 firms.

Teri Hart is a learning expert and work futurist who has been a leader in learning and development at Fortune 500 and Fortune Global 500 companies in financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, retail industries. She has held roles at GE, McKinsey, Discover Financial Services, and Zurich North America.

Teri has personally worked on learning programs affecting tens of thousands of employees throughout her 25+ years of work. She is passionate about life-long learning and its ability to transform who we are.

Teri has a Bachelors in Economics and Political Science from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, a Master’s of Science degree in Education from Indiana University, and a Master’s in Business Administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She also serves as adjunct faculty at Marquette University.

Teri Hart | Instagram @hardwiredtolearn
Teri Hart | LinkedIn

Teri Hart

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part 1 The Convergence of Things
1 At a Crossroads
2 A Fluid Workforce

Part 2 The Art and Science of Learning
3 Thinking About Learning
4 Exposing the Myths
5 The Limitless Human Potential to Learn

Part 3 Strategies for Learning
6 The Barriers to Learning
7 Learning to Learn

Part 4 Becoming a Learner
8 Your Learning Practice
9 Aligning Body and Mind
10 Learning Hacks

Part 5 HI Revolution
11 Prove You Are Human

Acknowledgements
About the Author
References

Overview

Written by a 25+ year learning industry expert and future of work strategist, this book will enable you to harness the transcendent power of lifelong learning to sustain your career, be resilient in the face of change, and reveal your greatest potential.

We are all born with an inexhaustible and undeniable potential to learn. The brain has about 100 billion neurons linked to one another through hundreds of trillions of connections called synapses.

Neuroscientists are discovering the mechanisms of the brain that underpin theories of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function in response to experiences. Based on cutting edge neuroscience and cognitive psychology, this book will debunk myths that hinder your ability to be a learner as well as provide you with:

  • Strategies to overcome barriers to learning.
  • Resources and ideas for integrating learning in your daily life.
  • Approaches for developing a life-long learning practice.

Whether you are a seasoned employee, starting your career, or looking to change careers, lifelong learning is the key to unlocking lifelong potential in your career and personal life. Hardwired to Learn is organized into five parts.

Part 1 sets the stage by highlighting the industrial revolutions of the past and the changes and disruptions brought by each. It describes why the 4th Industrial Revolution may be the most pervasive and how the double disruption of technology and the pandemic is altering the world of work. It then posits that the only way we can become resilient, adapt, and thrive is by embracing—and accelerating—our extraordinary capability to learn.

Part 2 recaps the origins of our ideas about learning and how the evolution of those theories over the past several hundred years has deepened our knowledge of ourselves and how we learn. It exposes four prevalent myths that have constrained the learning capacity of generations to learn. It highlights recent discoveries in neuroscience and how these new insights open the door for a paradigm shift in human learning.

Part 3 identifies what’s getting in the way of our capacity to learn and sets the stage for overcoming these barriers. It reveals how these obstacles we impose on ourselves and others are widespread, and shares tangible strategies for unleashing your potential to learn.

Part 4 offers some tangible steps to get you started on your learning practice from setting an intention to learn to managing your health and well-being to improving cognitive capability. In addition to providing the mindsets and methods you can use to become a lifelong learner, it includes research on how you can slow down the brain’s aging process.

Part 5—the final chapter—brings this all together by providing historic examples of how and why a Human Intelligence (HI) revolution is needed to accelerate our abilities in the face of the challenges of our time.

* * * * *

We are all born with an inexhaustible and undeniable potential to learn. Moreover, we have learned more about the brain and learning in the last 20 years than in the last 200, and these new findings offer insights to help us be more resilient in the face of change.

Whether you are a seasoned employee, starting your career, or looking to change careers, lifelong learning is the key to unlocking lifelong potential in your career and personal life.

Based on cutting edge neuroscience and cognitive psychology, this book will debunk learning myths that hinder your ability to be a learner as well as provide you with:

  • Strategies to overcome the primary barriers to learning.
  • Resources and ideas for integrating learning in your daily life.
  • Approaches for developing a life-long learning practice.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

“Through an adept synthesis of research – particularly in learning theory and neuroscience – 25-year
learning expert and future of work strategist Teri Hart weaves history, economics, technology, psychology,
medicine and sociology into a fascinating exploration of the role of mind and body in learning. Her expertly blended insights will convince you of the human mind’s remarkable ability to learn nearly anything at any
age.”

“Teri Hart’s Hardwired to Learn is a welcome treatise on learning, and more importantly, on our unbounded potential for growth. Well-written, convincing.”— Whitney Johnson, Bestselling author, Disrupt Yourself and Build an A Team

“Hart’s book prepares readers to tackle the technologies of the 4th industrial revolution, as learning is necessary for our survival.” — Marti Konstant, Bestselling author, Activate Your Agile Career

Teri Hart’s Hardwired to Learn is a welcomed treatise on learning, and more importantly, on our unbounded potential for growth. Well-written, convincing.
—Whitney Johnson, bestselling author, Disrupt Yourself and Build an A Team

Teri Hart’s view of the human potential for learning is infinitely scalable.The journey is not a matter of individual or organizational capability, because as her book suggests we are hardwired to tackle the 4th industrial revolution and its range of technologies because we know that learning is part of our survival. Teri challenges you to move beyond the barriers to learning and to “learn in” to the future.
—Marti Konstant, Best-selling author, Activate Your Agile Career

Video and Podcast