learning theory – What is learning?

Is it a change in behaviour or understanding? Is it a process? Here we survey some common models.

Linked with the encyclopedia of informal education – infed.org;

Published on infed.org (the encyclopaedia of informal education), © Mark K. Smith 1999, 2003.

Learning as a process – task-conscious or acquisition learning and learning-conscious or formalized learning
In the five categories that Säljö identified we can see learning appearing as a process – there is a concern with what happens when the learning takes place. In this way, learning could be thought of as ‘a process by which behaviour changes as a result of experience’ (Maples and Webster 1980 quoted in Merriam and Caffarella 1991: 124). One of the significant questions that arises is the extent to which people are conscious of what is going on. Are they aware that they are engaged in learning – and what significance does it have if they are? Such questions have appeared in various guises over the years – and have surfaced, for example, in debates around the rather confusing notion of ‘informal learning’.

One particularly helpful way of approaching the area has been formulated by Alan Rogers (2003). Drawing especially on the work of those who study the learning of language (for example, Krashen 1982), Rogers sets out two contrasting approaches: task-conscious or acquisition learning and learning-conscious or formalized learning …

… Learning as a process – learning theory: The focus on process obviously takes us into the realm of learning theories – ideas about how or why change occurs. On these pages we focus on four different orientations (the first three taken from Merriam and Caffarella 1991).

As with any categorization of this sort the divisions are a bit arbitrary: there could be further additions and sub-divisions to the scheme, and there a various ways in which the orientations overlap and draw upon each other. The four orientations can be summed up in the following figure: … (full text).

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