The nature of learning

The concept of learning is extremely complex and something that most will take for granted. The term 'learning' means different things to different people and it is a very broad concept.

Learning can be taken to mean such things as:

  • acquiring some form of knowledge eg knowing facts
  • developing some form of skill eg using a tool or implement effectively
  • developing some form of competency eg developing familiarity and expertise with a piece of software
  • developing an understanding eg being able to apply a process or procedure in non-standard ways.

At a fundamental level, learning is all about conceptual change. People learn something when their cognition is changed in some way and there is a residual effect that they take away from the learning experience. In order for learning to occur, there must be some lasting change. How long the change lasts is often a measure of the strength of the ‘gone’ learning. What is learned one day can be gone the next. Effective learning occurs when there is some conceptual change and it is lasting.

It is important to distinguish between the process of learning and the outcomes of learning. In most instances learning is an ongoing process with knowledge, skills and capabilities being continually developed and improved.

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