What Is Learning?

By Chris Chittenden

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.”

… Anthony J. D'Angelo

I am a member of Yahoo group for coaches and trainers and recently there was a post where the writer wanted help in the comparison between thinking and learning. There were a number of responses to this post, but the underlying assumption was that learning purely related to gaining knowledge. That learning is an intellectual exercise.

This view seems to be quite widespread throughout our society. Our education system is structured primarily around the acquisition of knowledge and students generally gain accreditation by passing exams where they have to demonstrate a satisfactory knowledge of a particular subject. It also seems to apply in our workplaces. It appears to be more and more difficult for people to get away from their work to be involved in learning in the workplace. Whereas it was common twenty years ago for people to go on five day programs, these days this is much less the case. It is often a challenge for people to find a day for a learning event, more time than that is often out of question. If learning is simply about the acquisition of knowledge then this makes sense. A student can go to a one day program and gain knowledge about something. However, if learning is more than gaining knowledge then this would predicate a different approach to learning. One that involves the development of skills and a way of being over a period of time. Ultimately, it begs the question, “what is the purpose of learning?”

Although some learning is done to simply achieve an accreditation, most of our learning takes place in an endeavour to develop ourselves. This can be seen in two ways – developing our knowledge and taking new actions. From an ontological perspective, we claim that learning takes place when an assessment is made of someone’s capacity to take action that they could not take before. This does not exclude the value of gaining knowledge as knowledge allows us to see things in a different way and make different choices. From an ontological perspective, we can say that we have learnt something when we can take the action of answering questions we couldn’t answer before. However, far greater value is found in learning that we can apply in our everyday living. It is not knowledge but the application of knowledge that can make a difference to our lives providing the opportunity for us to become who we want to become.

We invite you to consider this from your own perspective. Why do you read what you read? Why do you go to school or to seminars or to workshops or to university? What has you put effort into your learning? Your answers to these questions may help you refine what you want to learn and how you seek to learn it.

More articles on Being Human

© 2007 Chris Chittenden