“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
What is Learning?
Each of us defined learning differently. I identified learning as a process of acquiring knowledge or skills through experience or study. Furthermore, learning is an experience that brings about a relatively permanent change in behavior.
Before we dive into understanding the relevant science behind the learning process, let’s ground ourselves in a definition of learning that is drawn from research. (Berkely Center of Teaching and Learning, 2019)
Learning is a process that:
- is active – process of engaging and manipulating objects, experiences, and conversations in order to build mental models of the world (Dewey, 1938; Piaget, 1964; Vygotsky, 1986). Learners build knowledge as they explore the world around them, observe and interact with phenomena, converse and engage with others, and make connections between new ideas and prior understandings.
- builds on prior knowledge – and involves enriching, building on, and changing existing understanding, where “one’s knowledge base is a scaffold that supports the construction of all future learning” (Alexander, 1996, p. 89).
- occurs in a complex social environment – and thus should not be limited to being examined or perceived as something that happens on an individual level. Instead, it is necessary to think of learning as a social activity involving people, the things they use, the words they speak, the cultural context they’re in, and the actions they take (Bransford, et al., 2006; Rogoff, 1998), and that knowledge is built by members in the activity (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006).
- is situated in an authentic context – provides learners with the opportunity to engage with specific ideas and concepts on a need-to-know or want-to-know basis (Greeno, 2006; Kolodner, 2006).
- requires learners’ motivation and cognitive engagement to be sustained when learning complex ideas, because considerable mental effort and persistence are necessary.
Learning is non-linear. It’s a cyclical process. For me, first, there should be a purpose for learning and the right manner of teaching. Secondly, there should be a right stimulus in the form of knowledge, skills, and attitude or behavior. Next, this purpose should be tested thru application. Then, there should be feedback on the performance. Lastly, reinforcement and or rewards that improve motivation. However, according to K. Cherry, author of “The Psychology of How People Learn,” that the process of learning new things is not always the same.
Learned & Unlearned Phenomena
Learned and unlearned phenomena can be compared with human development. Human growth and development is a lifelong process of physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional growth and change. Mostly, new-born behaviors are innate o unlearned. Much of the baby’s activity in her first week of life is reflexive. For instance, when you put your finger in her mouth, she doesn’t think about what to do, but sucks by reflex. When confronted by a bright light, she will tightly shut her eyes, because that’s what her reflexes make her do. She’s born with many of these automatic responses, some of which remain with her for months, while others vanish in weeks. (American Academy of Pediatric, 2009)
In the early stages of life—from babyhood to childhood, childhood to adolescence, and adolescence to adulthood—enormous changes take place. Throughout the process, each person develops attitudes and values that guide choices, relationships, and understanding. These could be the effect of his/her environment and interactions with others. In school, a student would study hard knowing that he/she will receive recognition for his/her hard work. Developing new skill and talents like dancing or singing can be learned. Though, even during adulthood, unlearned behavior still exists especially in reaction to danger. Walter Bradford Cannon described this as the fight-or-flight response (acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.
Jeffrey Walsh (2013) discussed operant conditioning: Innate vs learned behaviors.
Campbell, K. Theory vs Experience. Again. [blog] September 1, 2016. Available from https://proswrite.com/2016/09/01/theory-vs-experience-again/
Berkely Center of Teaching and Learning (2019). What is Learning?, Berkely, University of California. Available from https://teaching.berkeley.edu/resources/learn/what-learning
Walsh, J. (2013) Operant conditioning: Innate vs learned behaviors. Khan Academy. Available from https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/behavior/learning-slug/v/operant-conditioning-innate-vs-learned-behaviors
American Academy of Pediatric, 2009. Available from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Newborn-Reflexes.aspx
The most useful piece of learning for the uses of life is to unlearn what is untrue. – Antisthenes