Learning is something of which we all have an understanding and in which we have all
participated. This participation has been in a very wide range of settings, both formal and
informal, ranging from the relative confines of a school classroom, to the wide open spaces of
the countryside or a quiet corner where a chance conversation led to deeper understanding
of some topic or another.
Learning is not exclusive to the domain of an education system. Learning begins a very long
time before school; continues for even longer after school; and happens rapidly, and in parallel
with school, in a great number of different ways and settings. Learning proceeds in a number
of different ways, and has been described and explained by many different interested researchers
and opinion-makers over many years.
How is learning currently defined?
Without looking for too long, and without delving too deeply into learnt sources, it is possible
to find a range of definitions of the process of learning.Table 1.1 contains a sample of these
Each of us will identify more or less strongly with different definitions from the list presented.
In everyday terms, it is supposed that learning is the process of gaining more knowledge, or of
learning how to do something – ride a bike, for example. As we will see, learning is viewed
differently by those who have spent time investigating and experimenting in the field,
according to the context of their work and other factors exerting influence at the time.We
will look at the work of both behaviourist and cognitive psychologists and consider the very
different approaches that each takes and the very different definitions that each might offer of
a process which, for most of us, comes very naturally.
A basic understanding of processes of learning is essential for those who intend to develop
activities that will have the potential to lead to effective learning taking place in classrooms,
that is teachers. In more recent times, there has been a reduction in the emphasis given to
learning about ‘learning’, from a theoretical standpoint, in initial courses for teacher education
in the United Kingdom.This has been for a variety of reasons.
For example, in recent years there has been a proliferation of regulations from central government which has made great
demands on the training providers and substantially squeezed the time available for teaching.
There has also been an emergence of alternative entry routes into teaching; some of which can
be called ‘work-based’.This too has led to a reduction of the time available for theoretical work.
To be fair, and in the view of most of those involved in teacher education, the balance between
practice and theory has been improved, but this has been at the expense of some areas of teaching
which have traditionally made up the curriculum for initial training courses.
We need to be aware that strategies are not the same as theory.Theory is something which
is able to explain what is observed and upon which strategies – what is actually done in the
classroom to achieve particular learning outcomes – are based. Certainly it is possible to teach
the content of Q10 and this will lead to trainees having knowledge of the strategies under
consideration, but to approach it without considering the underlying theory would be to leave
the job only half completed and provide the trainees with little understanding of the reasons
for such approaches