The Concept of Learning

In common parlance the word 'learning' carries at least two meanings. There is a general one of some kind of change, often in knowledge but also in behavior. However, learning cannot be defined merely in terms of changes in behavior. But there is also a more intense sense of the verb 'to learn' meaning to memorize, to learn by heart (Roger, 2003, p.86).

To say that 'learning is change' is too simple. Not all change is learning. What we usually mean by 'learning' are those more or less permanent changes and reinforcements brought about voluntarily in one's patterns of acting, thinking and/or feeling (Roger, 2003, p.86).

According to Ambrose et al. (2010, p.3):

  • Learning is a process, not a product
  • Learning is a change in knowledge, beliefs, behaviors or attitudes
  • Learning is not something done to students, but something that students themselves do

There have been several attempts to describe the different areas of learning change. The traditional distinction has been between learning knowledge and learning skills; but others have elaborated on this.Several point to the need to include attitudes as a third area. In the field of learning objectives, knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) is a well-worn path (Rogers, 2003, p.86).

Kurst Lewin (1935) suggested that learning changes occur

  • in skills,
  • in cognitive patterns (knowledge and understanding),
  • in motivation and interest, and
  • in ideology (fundamental beliefs) (Rogers, 2003, p.86).

Robert M. Gagné (1972) identified the following five domains or types of learning outcomes:

  • motor skills which require practice,
  • verbal information - facts, principles and generalizations which when organized into larger entities become knowledge,
  • intellectual skills - the 'discriminations, concepts and rules' that help in using knowledge,
  • cognitive strategies - the way the individuals learns, remembers and thinks, the self-managed skills needed to define and solve problems, and
  • attitudes (Rogers, 2003, pp.86-87).


What is learning?