Thursday, March 13, 2014

Defining 'Learning'

How do I define ‘learning’?

What an interesting question to consider - especially after being a teacher for over a decade! Perhaps more interesting though is that even after that length of time supposedly teaching people, I struggle to define the very term that I’m trying to accomplish in others. Fascinating.

Reading the quotes in the Module One Notes certainly stimulated my thinking and, perhaps typically in postgraduate studies, resonated deeply and tantalisingly with my inner conceptions of what learning is, although I seem to find it quite difficult to say in my own words. Again, as with many activities and readings I’ve undertaken recently, an example of reflection that every teacher and trainee in the country should carry out - regularly!

The quote which resonated the most with me from the notes was that of Senge (1990, p. 13-14) which describes the effect of learning as enabling people to do something that previously they were never able to do (or in some cases, not do very well), allowing us to “re-perceive the world and our relationship to it” (p. 14). As an adult learner, I realise how important understanding this fundamental truth is. Only through learning can I better understand the world in which I operate! These postgraduate studies I’m undertaking will allow me to be a better teacher, which is the career which I’m sure will largely define my pathway through life, and therefore - to a large extent - who I am.
Do I make this fundamental truth clear to my students? Or rather, do I overload and perhaps obfuscate this simple, yet profound axiom that all learners should know with a raft of sometimes seemingly meaningless (to the learner anyway) objectives, ad infinitum, ad nauseum? Finally, I can say, “This is why you’re doing it!” Obviously, objectives are important. But to be able to identify and vocalise the root reason - priceless!
Over the course of my teaching career I’ve had two distinctive pathways: first I was a Science (and Biology) teacher, followed by my most recent path which is primarily teaching year 8 students English, Social Studies, Health and PE. It’s mainly in this latter phase that I find myself questioning the intent of my teaching; initially, as a young Science and Biology teacher, I felt burdened (perhaps unconsciously) by the need to get students through exams. In hindsight I feel this may have actually hindered the learning process, in that students may have missed the big picture - developing a desire to learn. In many ways I feel I did this rather blindly, rarely if ever questioning the purpose of the learning. On the other hand, in my current practice I am asking myself more and more “Why? Why are we doing this? What is the real reason/purpose/big objective? Why should they (the learner) actually care?” This critical thinking has been a response to the readings and writings I’m undertaking as part of this course. I’m learning.

So if critical thinking has been a crucial part of my learning, then it must be a crucial part for my students too. Jonassen, Peck and Wilson (1999) point out that reflecting on our experiences and reasoning is an essential component of the learning process. It allows us to knowingly revel in the learning process, reinforcing the desire to do it again. Undoubtedly endorphins are involved there somewhere, feeding the desire to do it again. Consequently, in my opinion any definition of learning needs to include something about developing the desire and passion to want to learn, and I see this as only achievable through critical reflection on the learning process itself.

References:Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.

Jonassen, D. H., Peck, K. L., & Wilson, B. G. (1999). Learning with technology: A constructivist perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


  1. From a teacher who constantly frames both my teaching and outlook on life exactly as you have portrayed...good on you Saunil...only then will the picture in the frame become visible...

    1. Thanks Lyndsay. I appreciate the comment and support :)