Really what is this thing called “learning”? We all work so hard in schools, in our classrooms, and with our students because we want them to “learn”! And I guess my question is what do we all understand by “learning”? Is this understanding the same for me, and you, and your students, and their parents – or do we all have different ideas?
Creating a course for teacher professional learning was my impetus for clarifying this, in my own mind. Not only did it raise more questions for me, it took me across the internet and time travelling, way back into the past! This seemed simple, and yet it wasn’t so easy to think through? Also, I thought, maybe this might help some teachers, if they think more about “What is learning?”
A dear academic colleague of mine used to define learning as “a change in knowledge or skills, that is not due to simply getting older, growing up or maturing”. So, getting your first teeth or your wisdom teeth, that’s NOT learning, neither is your hair growing or getting taller. These changes just happen as you get older. Learning to recognize numerals, to add numbers, learning to read, to recognize metaphors and figurative language – these are clearly examples of learning.
This simple definition is echoed in current websites, like The elearning coach (Quoting Robert Gagne), and expanded by the National Academy of Sciences in their second 2018 edition of How People Learn II. On page 12 of How People Learn II, the authors emphasise the active processes of learning, as we all interact with ideas, situations and problems in our world, and how we adapt.
As well, How People Learn II extends their definition to “social, emotional, cognitive and physical experiences, and they adapt… (page 12). So, beyond academic learning, this extends to all learning we all do every day, including our social skills and our emotions. Equally important, their definition concludes with “adaptations shape a person’s abilities, skills and inclinations going forward” (page 12.
As teachers, this is an important conclusion, as what we learn today, impacts on how we learn tomorrow – think about this, and I’ll continue more about my time travels through learning definitions next week...
Whatever we think learning is - it's pretty magical - and teachers work their magic every day, whenever their students can do something they weren't able to do before that lesson! That change - being able to do something new = that's the magic of learning!
NOTE: You can download that whole book, How People Learn II free from this link, just for some “light reading”!! LOL 😊
NAP (2018) How People Learn II https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24783/how-people-learn-ii-learners-contexts-and-cultures