But, What is Learning?!

What is learning?
What is learning?

One of the most enlightening discussions on the Masters so far came from the, what initially seems innocuous, question ‘define learning’.

Surely, learning is just learning – you didn’t know stuff and then you know it. But, we all know learning is so much more than that and you can go on a journey of days if you set out to search the many definitions. (10 Definitions of LearningWhat is Learning, Exactly?, Learning – Wikipedia)

The idea that knowledge is a substance, something to be owned has long dominated our thinking. The idea of teachers or trainers pouring information into our brain, that it must be remembered and then is can be acted on still infiltrates a surprising amount of learning design. Now we see that participation plays a huge role. Learning is not linear nor passed down from level to another, unchanged or unchallenged. There are many in-depth writings on this very subject and if you are interested in reading more I suggest starting with Anna Sfard’s  On Two Metaphors of Learning 

In fact I was surprised when I was asked to write down my definition of learning which was:

” I see learning as acquiring (yes the a word) and/or being exposed to new or different points of view, facts, theories and processes which I can the use and/or cultivate to further my own performance, change/challenge my approach and/or feed my critical thinking.”

There is was – ‘acquisition’. But it goes far beyond just ‘getting’ the knowledge – there is doing, experimenting, participating. I appreciate the over use of and/or is fantastically annoying but hopefully it somehow gets across my idea that learning is multi-faceted; a network of roads so to speak rather than just the M1!

Proof of learning isn’t just built into completing a test and receiving a score. ‘Success’ is surely measured in so much more – the change of behaviour, thinking, the very act of taking part.

Someone wisely said to me as I awaited the result of my first assignment that it was so much more than the score; in fact the completion of the Masters will not be measured in the final % but the fact that it will have changed and challenged my thinking, opened up new ambitions and journeys, increased my participation in areas and introduced me to new crowds therein lies the success and proof of learning.

So, I would love to hear how other people would definite learning and whether just even thinking about that makes you question how you are using learning design because of your go to definition of what learning is. I know as a learning designer and trainer, it has made me question how often I throw information at people and then wonder why they just don’t get it and do what i want them to. Guilty, m’lud!

Whilst by its very nature I don’t think there is, or will be, a definitive definition of learning I think this is the greatest thing ever – because it means we will always be keen to keep discussing, refining and respecting it.

The one thing I am certain of is learning is movement, never staying in the same place and isn’t that a wonderful thought?!

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