Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What Does It Mean to Learn?

Informal learning
Informal learning (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Dr Bruce Johnson

When you hear someone say they are going to "take a class" or "go to college", you have a pretty good idea that they are going to study, acquire knowledge, and complete assessments.

But what does it really mean to learn as a student?

Learning in a college environment involves conscious information processing and engagement of the mind.

It requires specific mental characteristics and the end result of full engagement in the process is personal and professional development.

Every day we are acquiring information, and in reality, we are often bombarded with, and overloaded from, the vast amount of information that is trying to get our attention. That's referred to as informal learning or acquiring information and knowledge through casual means.

When entering a college or university it is a formal learning environment that students are required to participate in. Everything completed is done in a structured format. Students are guided through the process of knowledge acquisition and expected to complete specific learning objectives.

Learning in a formal environment first begins with information processing. Students are assigned topics and course materials that they will study.

However, just because students are given a textbook and told to read it does not mean that they have learned anything and they won't until they process the information received.

Students have perceptual filters and emotional reactors that determine how they perceive their environment and work within it. They need to perceive this is of benefit to them and feel supported as they complete their work.

Students must also do more than simply read or get through the assigned materials, they need to interact with the information through note-taking or other study habit techniques that will allow them to connect with the material and learn from it.

As students process information they also must engage their mind. As students read they rely upon cognitive skills to interact with the information.

Passive reading, which is similar to passive learning, engages only lower levels of cognition and that's why information acquired like this is rarely remembered.

Students that sit through a lecture without taking notes or being engaged in a discussion aren't interacting with the information presented and it is unlikely they will learn from it.

It's only when students take an interactive approach to what they are reading or hearing and engage higher cognitive functions that critical thinking occurs because students are taking information and working with it in some manner.

In order for students to learn in a formal classroom environment they must develop self-discipline and self-motivation, which means they are taking personal responsibility for their involvement in and engagement with the process.

Just because they are given information, either verbally or in written form, does not mean they will automatically engage with it. Students must be motivated to do so and willing to explore new ideas. That's what is often referred to as having an open mind.

Working with information received is the first step in the learning process. The mind must be engaged before information becomes knowledge and results in learning.

When students become active participants they not only acquire knowledge related to a specific subject, they expand their capacity to learn through higher cognitive functioning. When this happens students discover the transformational nature of learning through personal and professional growth.

This type of growth prevents mental stagnation and encourages them to continue finding new opportunities to learn, which is referred to as becoming a lifelong learner.

Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, career coaching, and life coaching.

Dr. J has completed a master's in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, faculty mentor, and professional writer.

Dr. J's first eBook, APPRECIATIVE ANDRAGOGY: TAKING the Distance Out of Distance Learning, is available on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. Learn more by visiting

Article Source:

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment