What is Learning?

After reading this post by Tony Gurr, I was challenged to take on the question of “What is learning?” myself. After all, Tony says it is a question we do not ask enough. Indeed, the question had never really crossed my mind. I think I was taking it for granted that learning is something that, “I’ll know it when I see it / when I experience it.” In my own context, I don’t see the same students for more than a week at a time. I often ask myself what they’ll take away from the class. Some of my coworkers even make goals for the one thing they want the students to take away if they remember nothing else. I don’t do this – I learned a long time ago that other people’s learning isn’t always dictated by me.

It took me two days to read the whole blog post. Yeah, it was long, but that’s not really why. I got stuck on finding my own definition of learning. How hard can it be to come up with a definition of learning? It was supposed to take five minutes, be tweeted to ten people, and improve with collaboration. But the more I thought about it, the more impossible the challenge sounded. First off, I didn’t have a definition of learning. BIG problem. There was also the problem of who to collaborate with and how. And that’s where I made a decision I don’t usually make.

I used Facebook. I used Facebook and I hid the post from my “Professional” list. What I realized was, those were not the answers I wanted. They give thoughtful and considered answers based on their many many years of experience. They are professional learners, all of them. I wish I could tell you I did something awesome and profound like sending the question to my students. I didn’t do that. I sent it out to all my friends and family no matter what their walk of life – the people who, like me, never really think about what learning is. We just “let it happen”. Below are some of the responses, as well as my own definition (pre-Facebook question, but post @TonyGurr blog).

Maybe learning is questioning, listening, thinking and examining so that I improve understanding and reshape knowledge.

* learning is getting a job and if ur lucky a career (previous comment only applies to book learning) *

* acquiring and retaining knowledge or skills? *

* Learning is the acquisition of knowledge, skills or wisdom not previously present in the learner. *

* oh man! a student just asked me the difference between studying and learning. it’s such a difficult word to explain. *

* Studying is reviewing material in the attempt to learn it. Learning it means you will be able to remember and apply it. One might study, but still not learn. 😉 *

* I like to think learning means you acquire knowledge and you and your life change. Otherwise it’s just memorization which leads to /censored/ who talk alot but have nothing to say. *

* figuring out what NOT to do! *

* Endless quest to expand self knowledge. *

* To obtain knowledge of a skill by study or experience. Webster’s New World Dictionary *

What I learned from this is that learning is quite personal. Everyone has their own unique definition. Mine probably took so long to formulate because I was trying to “learn” it. The other thing I took away is that maybe knowing what learning is isn’t enough. Maybe we have to go on to ask the question: How can we help our students learn? We can’t tell them what to learn, but maybe we can guide them in how to learn.

Maybe I’m doing it wrong.  I don’t know. But one big change for me is that, thanks to Tony Gurr, now I’m thinking about it. One day I might get it right.

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