Learning – What is it?

We all seem to learn something everyday, in some shape or form, but what actually is meant by learning and how can I improve my own learning experience?

The Oxford Dictionary provides a definition for learning [noun] as “The acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught.” (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/learning)

Wikipedia provides a more extensive definition as:

Learning is the act of acquiring new or modifying and reinforcing existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences which may lead to a potential change in synthesizing information, depth of the knowledge, attitude or behavior relative to the type and range of experience. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals, plants and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow a learning curve. Learning does not happen all at once, but it builds upon and is shaped by previous knowledge. To that end, learning may be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of factual and procedural knowledge. Learning produces changes in the organism and the changes produced are relatively permanent.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning)

The act of learning therefore requires elements of thought processing, to different degrees, and active reflection on what is being considered as part of this process. The learning of practical skills will require the physical act of doing to help reinforce learning from hand, arm, leg, eye etc. movements that are needed to apply the skill.

From my own experiences, and most likely of others, it is the depth of active reflection, or positive engagement with a practical skill, which involves questioning and challenging that which is being thought about or practiced, that develops the learning (and subsequent ability to recall or demonstrate the learning) that is taking place.

Learning can take many forms – formal, informal, non-formal – but the richness of opportunities that exist to continually learn something which is of interest and of use to individuals in the modern age is almost unlimited.

Learning is a continual process which means if one is to develop in life – whether domestic or work – then active engagement, on  a regular basis, needs to take place; you can’t (at the moment) just plug yourself into a socket, connect to the web and acquire information which is downloaded into your memory for future retention.

Being able to remember what has been considered as part of the learning process and the option/s chosen for what, at the time, was seen as an improvement in that which has been learnt is certainly a challenge. This is one area I need to document better so I can revisit the process and better reflect on the decision made at the time.

What tips can I pick up from others?

  • Practice retrieving new learning from memory – be active and dynamic, not passive and uninterested as the latter won’t get you very far;
  • Space out my retrieval practice by varying the time gap between retrieval;
  • Interleave the study of different problem types – add variety to learning.

(Brown, P.C., Roediger III, H.L. & McDaniel, M.A. (2014) ‘Make it stick – The Science of Successful Learning’)

Books on learning

Books on learning

These messages, and more, are reinforced in the book (‘How We Learn’ Carey, B. 2015) with the following image (page 26) emphasising the need to keep practicing the retrieval of what has been learnt if memory retention is seen as an outcome of the acquisition of knowledge or skills.

Memory retention changing with time

Memory retention changing with time

Learning – the thirst for development should be something which excites everyone; there surely must be some knowledge or skill, however obscure to some people, that is of interest to every individual and which will provide a rich and valued learning experience.

To paraphrase words from the late Bruce Forsyth ‘Keep Learning’!

Chris Gray, 15th September 2017