Defining Learning

The goal of most teachers is that their students learn in the classroom. However, a question to ask is what does it mean to learn? Another question to consider is how can we tell when a student has learned something?

It is not easy to answer these questions. Despite the challenge, there are several different criteria that can be considered to determine if a student has learned something. Three ways to see learning includes the following

  • Learning involves some form of change
  • Learning is something that endures over time
  • Learning occurs through experience

Learning and Change

The first criterion for defining learning is that it brings change. In other words, a student goes from acting or performing one way to another. For example, I child who cannot ride a bike eventually learns to ride the bike. The student moves from inability to ability and this is one example of learning. The actual process of acquiring the skill is not always clear but the outcome is clear. This criterion is for those who see learning as a behavioral process.

Learning Endures Over Time

When a student learns something the change should endure. How long is not always agreed upon and forgetting happens as well. Despite this, people who learn often remember what they learned for more than a few fleeting moments. Returning to our bicycle example, many people remember this skill for their entire lives. Even those who forget, they are able to quickly relearn the skill with some practice. In general, something that is learned is something that lasts.

Learning Happens through Experience

A common saying is that life is the best teacher. It is through experience and not theory that learning often occurs. For our bicycle example, the student did not listen to a lecture on riding bikes but went out there and rode a bike. It is through practice and observation that learning can also occur. The trials of life lead to reflection that modifies behavior in a way that is beneficial.


Learning involves change, time, and experience. These criteria helps people to make sense of the world and acquire new abilities. There is more to learning than just these three components. Whatever else is necessary, these components will apply in many situations in which learning occurs.

2 thoughts on “Defining Learning

  1. Pingback: Module 2: INTELLIGENCE – EDS 103 – Theories of Learning

  2. Pingback: Module 1: LEARNING – EDS 103 – Theories of Learning

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