what is learning?

Some initial thoughts.

timeandtalent.jpg (12309 bytes)We can initially approach learning as a product or thing. When we say we have learnt something what we usually mean is that we have gained some understanding that we have been able to commit to memory. We call the memory 'learning'. We have learnt this or that. Frank Smith describes this as seeking to stamp a seal of approval on particular thoughts and feelings that we want to stay with us in the future. For example, we may be trying to learn French. We may read words and then repeat them to ourselves hoping we can capture them and hold them so we can use them again.

We can also approach learning as a process that we all engage in. Like memorization and understanding, it involves thinking. In other words, learning isn’t simply a memory that we label as knowledge; it is also the way we search for understanding. It is something that we do. For much of the time, easy and unseen, learning is thinking that takes us forward. It prepares us for what might be. Thus, as Frank Smith has put it, remembering involves the past, understanding the present; and learning is oriented to the future. Each of these words describes thinking - but emphasize different aspects.

infedcov.jpg (18462 bytes)Taken from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.


© Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith
First published October 4, 1999. Last update: Tuesday July 08, 2014