Concept of Learning

Concept of Learning

Table of Content
  • Concept of Learning
  • Meaning and Definitions of the term Learning
  • Changes brought by Maturation
  • Factors associated with temporary changes in Behaviour
  • Relatively permanent changes through experience and training
  • The Process of Learning

Concept of Learning 

Learning takes centre stage in the educational process. Whatever exists in our educational system is designed to help learners, i.e. students, in their learning. As a result, it is important for us, as teacher trainees, to understand the concept of learning. Let us observe the term "learning" in more detail by
(a) knowing its meaning and definitions and 
(b) knowing the process of learning. 

Meaning and Definitions of Learning 

Learning situations are most natural and common in life and every one of us is continuously learning one thing or the other, although they may not necessarily be aware of it. An individual starts learning immediately after his birth. While coming near a burning matchstick, the child gets burnt and he/she move backward. Next time when they faces a burning matchstick, they takes no time to get away from it. He learns to avoid not only the burning matchstick but also all burning things. When this happens, we say that the child has learned if they touches a burning flame, they will be burnt. 

In this way, the behaviour of an individual is changed through direct or indirect experiences. This change in behaviour brought by experience is commonly known as learning. This is very simple explanation of the term learning. But a complete understanding of the term needs more clarity and exact definition.

Definitions of Learning

Gardner Murphy (1968): 
The term learning covers every modification in behaviour to meet environmental requirements. 

Henry P. Smith (1962): 
Learning is the acquisition of new behaviour or the strengthening or weakening of old behaviour as the result of experience. 

Woodworth (1945): 
Any activity can be called ‘Learning’ so far as it develops the individual (in any respect, good or bad) and makes him alter behaviour and experiences different from what otherwise would have been. 

Kingsley and Garry (1957): 
Learning is the process by which behaviour (in the broader sense) is originated or changes through practice or training. 

Robinson and Horrocks (1967): 
Learning is an episode in which a motivated individual attempts to adapt his behaviour so as to succeed in a situation which he perceives as requiring action to attain a goal. 

Crow and Crow (1973): 
Learning is the acquisition of habits, knowledge and attitudes. It involves new ways of doing things and it operates in an individual’s attempts to overcome obstacles or to adjust to new situations. It represents progressive changes in behaviour. It enables him to satisfy interests to attain goals. 

Hilgard (1958): 
Learning is the process by which an activity originates or is changed through reacting to an encountered situation provided that the characteristics of the change in activity cannot be explained on the basis of native response, tendencies, maturation, or temporary states of the organism (e.g., fatigue or drugs etc.). 

An overview of the above definitions may clearly say that learning may be turned as a process or its outcome in which necessary changes in the behaviour of the learner are brought through experience—direct or indirect. Here it has been also focused that although changes in behaviour are also brought by the factors other than experience yet all such changes in behaviour are not related with the process and product of learning. In this connection, special mention can be made about the Hilgard’s definition.

On the basis of Hilgard’s definition of learning, the factors or forces responsible for bringing changes in our behaviour can be divided into following three main categories: 

(1) The factors or forces that bring permanent or long lasting changes in our behaviour, e.g. maturation. 

(2) The factors or forces that bring temporary changes in our behaviour, like mental or physical tired, illness, drugs or alcoholic objects, medicines, sleeplessness and emotions like anger, fear, etc. 

(3) The factors or forces that bring relatively lasting or permanent changes (the changes lying between the temporary and permanent status—neither too temporary nor too permanent) in our behaviour, e.g. training, practice, experiences, etc. 

Let us now examine the type of changes brought by these three categories of factors or forces in our behaviour. First, let us consider the effect of maturation. 

Changes brought by maturation

Maturation may result in permanent or long-lasting behavioural changes. Let us try to understand this concept. Maturation, as a biological process, is related with the natural process of growth and development. As a result, it is only responsible for bringing about changes that are directly related to the natural process of growth and development. Individual behaviour changes brought about by maturation do not require any type of learning or training. The plans for these changes are actually stored in the child's genetic heritage.

As an example, we can take the changes that occur in the voice tone of male and female children as they reach the age of adolescence. While in the case of girls, it is defined by high-pitched and becomes sweet (i.e., acquiring the quality of musical sound), in the case of boys, it becomes deeper and harsher. Such different changes in voice between sexes at the beginning of puberty are simply the result of the maturation process (natural process of growth and development). However, such behavioural changes brought about by maturation must be considered as long-lasting or permanent. We can't reverse the effects of such changes.

After developing unique female or male voices, a female or male child cannot return to his previous stage of voice that they enjoyed previous at the start of adolescence. Similarly, many of the changes brought in children's motor activities may be connected to the biological process of maturation. However, once a child develops the strength and skill of using his arms or legs, the change is irreversible unless the child is affected by serious diseases, accidents, or physical/mental abnormalities. In this way, maturation is known for bringing about long-lasting and permanent changes in behaviour.

Factors associated with temporary changes in behaviour 

Consider the second category of factors responsible for causing temporary changes in behaviour, namely, Stress, illness, medicine, intoxicating objects, fear, anger, and other factors all have a serious and effective affect on one's behaviour. When returning home in the evening, the person who was quite right when leaving for his office in the morning may be seen to be quite choosy and frustrated. This change in his behaviour is the result of him becoming mentally and physically tired. However, the change is only temporary, as the behaviour may return to normal after some rest or refreshment.

The same is true for the behavioural changes caused by the use of drugs, alcohol, and other intoxicating substances. When the alcohol consumption factors are removed, the behaviour returns to normal. Similarly, under emotional situation, one may be effected from his normal behaviour, but as soon as they returns to their senses after being cooled down, he comes to realize his emotional reaction and illogical behaviour and restarts his normal behaviour. As a result, the changes in our behaviour brought about by the second category of factors are quite short lived and temporary.

When the impact of the factors or forces responsible for introducing such changes comes to an end, the changes in behaviour disappear. We  may very well link these behavioural changes with the types of physical changes that we are familiar with as a student of physical sciences, such as the transformation of ice into water, the lighting of an electric bulb, and so on. The changes brought about by maturation, on the other hand, are quite permanent, such as chemical changes, such as the burning of a piece of paper, the conversion of milk into curd, and so on.

Relatively permanent changes through experience and training 

The third category of behavioural changes is neither too temporary (as caused by factors such as tiredness, illness, alcohol, and so on) nor too permanent (as brought by maturation). They fall somewhere in the middle and can thus be described as fairly permanent or long-lasting changes in one's behaviour. The factors or forces that bring about such changes are termed to as experiences (direct or indirect, involving training, practise and formal as well as informal education attempts). Only fairly permanent changes in our behaviour brought about by experience can be linked to the process and product of learning.

Their ability to be neither too permanent nor too temporary is helpful to the educational system. Imagine if the outcomes of our learning, i.e. changes in behaviour, had been too temporary; the tough efforts to make students learn, remember, and apply the outcomes of learning would have been fruitless. Because of the nature of temporary and short lived changes, all that a child has learned could have disappeared in a moment. Similarly, introducing too many permanent changes in one's behaviour through learning would have been a very uncomfortable experience, as a student learning to pronounce PUT as PAT could become a lifelong mistake.

What was completed could not be erased, and thus picking up bad habits as a result of any learning could have destroyed the future of sick learners. In this way, it is a very positive sign that changes brought about purely through experience are known to as learning. In this way, if we try to examine the nature of changes introduced in our behaviour in relation to the factors responsible for such changes, we may be able to develop a proper definition of the term learning in the following words.

Learning is the process of bringing about slightly longer or permanent behavioural changes through experience or training.

Process of Learning

Learning is a process, not a finished product. This process is continuous and is carried out in a series of steps. Smith arrives at the following conclusion after summarising these steps: 

In short, the learning process includes a motivator or push(drive), an interesting goal, and a major challenge to achieving the goal. All of these are necessary.

Let us try to examine the statement of Smith. 
Primary motivation or push(drive) is the first step in the learning process. Real motivations are the lively forces that shape behaviour and force children to act. Every individual must make sure that his or her basic intentions and needs are met. We do not feel the need to change our behaviour or acquire new knowledge and skills as long as our current behaviour, knowledge, skill, and performance are sufficient to meet all of our needs. This requirement motivates a learner to continue pursuing knowledge. The learner's motivations and needs must be met. When a learner's need is strong enough, he is forced to work hard for its fulfilment.

To complete this, they must create defined goals. Setting a goal and having a clear aim helps to make learning more meaningful and interesting. We are pulled to learn because of the goal. (See diagram below.)

Then comes the third step in the learning process, which is just as important as the previous ones. It is in terms of some obstacle, block, or barrier that prevents us from achieving that goal. If we face no difficulties in achieving our goal, we do not need to change our current behaviour, knowledge, or skills. This means that we are not required to learn. In this way, the big obstacle or problem is an important step in the learning process. We attempt to change or modify our behaviour only when it is necessary to do so in order to achieve the goals that our unsatisfied real motivations create.

Elements in the process of Learning

Let us make clear the previous points with an example. Think we, want to be a member of our college hockey team, where we can play games that meet many of your psychological needs. You want the respect of your colleagues and teachers. We are also motivated by the interesting opportunities we may have. However, we are blocked by a lack of skill in dodging, tackling, and ball handling. These obstacles and roadblocks in our path to goal achievement will force us to pay for your shortcomings and acquire necessary skills through with enough practise and coaching.

Smith has tried to consider the problem, why we learn, and the role of motivation, needs, and goals in the learning process through these steps. However, the learning process remains incomplete without the three elements proposed by Smith: motivations, goals, and blocks. It is more of a beginning stages for learning them, instead of the actual learning stage. With these three steps, the child develops a strong wish and important desire to know something. It is important for any learning scheme. Before beginning the learning programmes, the child's willingness (his positive attitude toward learning) must be decided.

There are number of factors affecting position to achieve. Among them are their physical and mental maturity, previously acquired knowledge and skills, and goal-setting ability. With the help and support of all of these factors, teachers or parents should try to set a suitable level of aspiration for the child so that they can progress properly on the path of learning. Following the preparatory stage, the next steps in the learning process are concerned with the learner's actual learning task. The learning situation is one of these important steps. The learning environment provides opportunities for learning.

The type of learning situation and environment available to the learner has a large effect on the quality, speed, and effectiveness of learning. A healthy and favourable learning environment produces satisfactory results in learning, whereas a poor and unpleasant learning environment becomes an obstacle to learning. When a learner tries so hard to learn something in a particular learning environment, the process of learning includes regular interaction.

According to Udai Pareek, Interaction is the process of responding to a situation and getting feedback from it—satisfaction or thwarting of the needs. Learning results from such interaction.

In fact, when a child tries so hard to learn something in order to achieve his desired goal, they are excited to know the outcome of their efforts. On this path, whenever they gains new knowledge and skills or makes changes in his behaviour, they are curious to know whether or not these changes will allow him to achieve the desired outcome. If they finds that everything he has learned thus far is useful and he is satisfied with his progress, they will surely speed up their learning. Furthermore, the flow of the learning process is continuous. What has been learned thus far on the path of learning continues to serve as a running capital and a foundation for future learning.

Learning at a specific point in time in a learning environment results in high changes in an individual's behaviour. These modifications finally become a part of the learning behaviour. These learned acts are kept for a longer period of time depending on the learner's nature and the importance of the learning process, and they are used in similar situations when the need and opportunity occur. As a result, the learning process does not end with the knowledge that are needed, skills, and behavioural changes in a single situation. It is an ongoing process. Once acquired, or learned, the change or learning becomes fixed in other similar situations. It stands for its modification and thus appears to be in a continuous state of change and development.
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