Building a shared understanding around learning

Learning about learning : Part 2

Figuring out what we mean by “learning” is key to making sense out of this word that is increasingly being used in conversations around change today. I wish I could stop and ask people what they mean when they use they talk about learning. I could almost guarantee that there would be very different responses from each person. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — but it does mean that taking a few minutes to make sure we are clear about what we mean. I am hoping this article will help us take stock and build a shared understanding of the word learning before we move ahead and dig deeper. So it’s not so much about the how here, but the what.

In my last post we defined learning —

The process of 
gaining, acquiring or building on 
knowledge, skill or attitude by 
study, experience or instruction 
which causes significant change in 
self — conscious or subconsciously 
is called learning.

For me one of the most interesting things about that definition was the fact that learning can happen subconsciously also. And that is one of they key differences between learning and education.

Learning and education are often used interchangeably, let’s is examine the two a bit more closely. I have created four spectrums on which we can plot the various experiences to help make sense of what’s going on.

To test this out, I plotted 3 different experiences on these spectrums. Let’s look at how a child first learns the language, it is an informal, on-going process of acquiring knowledge that is driven by curiosity. Studying online using a MOOC is a formal, intermittent process where information is imparted using a curriculum. On the other hand learning how to play an instrument using youtube videos would be an formal yet on-going process of acquiring a skill using a rough curriculum.

If we could plot different learning experiences, we would start seeing distinctions more clearly. For example we would see that few formal learning experiences aid the on-going learning of an individual. This is particularly unfortunate since lifelong learning is what we need to nurture the most. So why is that?

Education as a domain is extremely prone to inertia — it is easier to tweak the existing model than to innovate radically. One frame that can help us transform is designing for learning instead of designing for education.

‘How might we transform schools?’ is a question we’ve been attempting to answer as a community. Interestingly, the origin of the word school in Latin, schola meant intermission of work, leisure for leaning. Look how that has changed!

For me, a better question to think about is —

How might we nurture lifelong learning in individuals?

(And traditional institutions are only one possible solution to the question…)


[Note: “Learning about Learning” is a new series exploring different facets of learning to unravel what it could look like in the future.]

Stay tuned for the next instalment of the conversation!