Part I: Acquiring knowledge

What makes for learning?

What is good learning like?

What types of learning are there?

Depending on your answer, your solutions in your learning program may differ drastically.

Take a minute, and think about how you would define learning? Is the first thing that comes to mind, the increase in the amount of knowledge? What about the ability to use a new skill? Do you think about being able to take part in a new community? Would you go as far as thinking learning is about building knowledge or creating new solutions?

Learning is one of those concepts for which an all-encompassing definition will never be reached. Rather, it is best approached with metaphors. Anna Sfard’s article On Two Metaphors of Learning describes the discussion around the topic around 20 years ago.

There is more to the question about the nature of learning than just semantics. Therefore it is a fruitful starting point for designing your learning program.

Learning as an acquisition

The idea that learning means gaining or increase in the amount of knowledge is a self-evident one. When I know something today that I didn’t yesterday, I can say that I have learned something in between. The amount of information in my head has increased. The acquisition metaphor sees the human mind as a container, which can be filled with materials. Learning is about becoming an owner of these materials.

Researchers have presented different frameworks and mechanisms for the process of learning. While earlier theories talked about the passive reception of information, later the move was towards active construction by the learner and the importance of social interaction. At the moment, learning is more or less seen as an endless, self-regulating process taking place in the interaction with other learners, teachers, and learning materials.

Engaging the learners

The challenges of education are to engage learners, take into consideration their prior knowledge, and to offer different kinds of learners the right kind of support. To make things interesting, learners should be offered ways to operate meaningfully, use their earlier knowledge, measure their competence, and apply what they have learned. Things like bite-size learning, applications, and the ability to discuss with peers can make things more interesting.

Essentially, this is what most learning programs are about: whether it is a compliance training, induction to tasks, introducing new tools, or teaching skills. The goal is to teach the learner information or skills they don’t have. The role of the teacher or the learning program is to help the student attain knowledge by delivering, facilitating, mediating, and finally measuring learning. Once attained, knowledge like any other can be applied to a given task and shared with others.

The pathway towards the learning goal

When you design a learning program, you start with a container of knowledge either held by an expert or within documents. Processing the learning program includes structuring the information to what the learners are supposed to acquire. And the path towards that learning goal is designed in a way that it offers them meaningful activities and ways of interacting.

This is what most learning programs cover. They are designed to increase the amount of knowledge and skills. But taking the definition of learning a bit further might help you to rethink your learning programs. 

topi litmanen

About the Author

Dr. Topi Litmanen worked as a Chief Educational Scientist in Claned. He was responsible for ensuring, that the pedagogical aspects of Claned are based on evidence-based learning research.