What is Learning?

By Mastercoach 2014onNov. 18, 2014in Perspectives

Thoughts on ‘What is Learning?expressed by Harmony (Professor at MICA), Thomas P. Thomas (CEO, ZYXWARE Technology), Blaise (independent artist), Rohit Dhankar (Head of Dept. Philosophy, Azim Premji University), Gagan Bhai (Chairman, Centre for Social Justice), Arvind Gupta (toy inventor and popularizer of science) and Parth (Co-Founder, Urban Think)…

‘Learning in its true sense … invites us to relate to the other with respect and not to conquer. Learning shows us the path of creativity, critical thinking and to nurture multiple possibilities.’

Audio Transcript

Professor at MICA

I think one of the first things that come to mind when you ask me about learning especially from the point of educator – I think its that way that you manage to instill in your students and the people that you speak to that lack of certainty that so many of them come in with – I think that you are doing something right. In the sense to me the learning process, if it culminates in merely the ability to destabilize someone’s point of view to the point where they question, where they question the process, where they question the outcome where they question the questioning itself, something is working. Because to my mind especially living in the complex, deeply complex world that we live in we cant really make sense of things in the way in the way it has been done so far. What I mean by that is that there are no ready answers, as a teacher you know that there are no ready answers, there aren’t questions that can be answered in a closed system, it isn’t a yes no, it is not a binary, it is something much bigger and more complicated than that. And as a educator your goal in facilitating or creating a process whereby you are destabilizing certainties that students carry , in with them not to….that invite….provide different set of questions amongst themselves……that to mind is a huge part of I understand at least by the learning process and the role of teacher as facilitator in making that happen.

Thomas. P. Thomas
CEO, Zyxware Technology

What we all do all the time from birth till death we learn consciously, we learn unconsciously, we learn to practice a profession, we learn to speak a language, we learn to learn in a community, we all do that and much more. Learning can be defined as a process of acquiring certain knowledge and skills sets. Now, when I say knowledge and skill sets I could be referring to areas of math, science, operating a machine, playing a sport, singing, cycling, any of that. We also know that the way in which we acquire knowledge in all these areas can be quite different from one another and also the expectations from a learner in each of these areas is also quite different, for example from a mathematician we expected to solve the problem by using his knowledge but a historian might be expected to describe or explain the event, a historical event, a machine operator might be expected to operate the machine in a real life setting and also may be describe how it functions and its only then will we say that he has learned to operate the machine. Now I would like to draw attention to is that as individuals when we live our life, there is a continuous demand on the individual to be learner. We are expected to be a lifelong learner. We all have had scenarios in our life where what we consider to be true or what we consider to be knowledge turns out to be in inadequate or time false, at times inappropriate and we have to revisit and relearn many of these things. At the same time we could also have scenarios where new knowledge and new skills are identified in certain areas and then as individual we are expected to learn that as well. Now for this to happen it is important that an individual understands what is knowledge in a particular area, how knowledge is generated in that area, what is driving in generation of that knowledge, how can you validate that knowledge and how to examine the truth emerging the knowledge so that he can convince himself of that truth and can act on that basis. So these are some of the aspects that an individual must learn over the period of his formal education and training so that he can be a continuous learner. As a teacher there are couple of other areas that one could look at, one, how do you motivate the learners to learn these things. Motivation could be lots of things, it could be curiosity could be appreciation, could be utility of learning any of these things. The second aspect is the confidence of the learner, the leaner must have sense of confidence that he can acquire the knowledge in these areas. This will be an effective education process.

Rohit Dhankar
H.O.D Philosophy, Azim Premji University

Learning usually is defined as the change of behavior through experience, that is the behaviorist definition of learning. When cognitive psychologists looked at this term they wondered whether this change of behavior comes due to change in the cognition. The definition I take of learning is a change in overall repertoire of knowledge / understanding, skills or capabilities and values and attitudes, in which the learning is involved either through reflection or through experience. Now this is in a way value neutral definition of learning. It could be positive or it could be negative. You can learn to abuse one’s neighbor or one can learn to cooperate with one’s neighbor. Educational learning adds two more things to it –

  • One is desirability that they want to teach things which are desirable as per the aims of education and
  • Second thing it involves is some standards. So this is not any change, but change to do something or think in a particular way and therefore this involves standards of achievement.

Now one can say learning has two aspects to itself. One is the process through which you do learning and another is the achievement of the learning. So educational learning has criteria or conditions for both. The organized learning which an educator is trying should meet some ethical criteria, that is, engagement of the mind of the learner and ethically unobjectionable processes, that is, no punishment etc. And in achievement as I already mentioned, achieving certain standards of either behavior or thinking etc.

Now if someone wants to facilitate learning, then to my mind the trickiest part is, that you have a learner who has a certain repertoire of understanding, skills and attitudes and you have a desirable state in which you want to improve either skill or understanding. So the facilitator or the teacher has to more or less accurately guess what is the available repertoire with the learner and since learning necessarily is integrating or connecting new ideas of behavior in the earlier repertoire, then one can start only from there, and then planning a route map, a flexible one, which can have many ways to reach to the desired state. And that involves a sort of lot of thinking from the teacher and asking the kind of questions that incrementally progress the learner towards the desired state or organizing experiences in such a way, in an integrated manner, that the learner reaches the desired state. In this also this a task in which the teacher and the taught both are engaged around certain idea which is supposed to be grasped or learnt and it always is a flexible and dynamic process. There are no standard methods. It depends more on the individuals who are learning and what is being taught.

Blaise Joseph
Independent Artist

What is learning – do we learn most of the time from books and institutions where textual knowledge is transmitted or do we learn from our everyday experiences where our senses are involved. Is not learning an act of codifying various knowledge that we acquire through our sense oriented practices. In our present system we are forced to distance ourselves from our senses and to give higher importance to our mind and its relation to technology. We are made to believe that our worth comes from our capacity to conquer and rule over the others with this combination of our mind and technology. And it is a rat race that we are pushed into. If we consider our purpose of life to be understanding ourselves and other living systems and to develop a relationship between others and us. Then we do not require this rat race because it is creating distress and unhappiness and violence. Today we are world over a much more unhealthy people in many ways than our ancestors. So I think education and learning are much misunderstood concepts today. Institutionalized education is equated with learning and we are made to believe that only those who undergo these educational practices are learned and socially accepted. We are made to believe that these systems enable us to solve all the problems that our world is faced with – challenging the strength of various knowledge systems of communities. There must be a serious problem in our educational system that shapes our mind and thought patterns and belief systems – perhaps on the account of the absence of soul in the learning process, because despite all these educational advancements we are faced with much complex, irreversible and irreparable problems globally. So I think learning in its true sense demands of us to slow down our pace to one level – to be and to stand under the spell of the other – to understand. This process invites us to relate to the other with respect and not to conquer. Learning shows us the path of creativity, critical thinking and to nurture multiple possibilities. Much of learning happen actually outside of the classroom – classrooms are spaces where we are facilitated to reflect over and codify the knowledge that is acquired by various people and cultures. Sources and results of learning are not uniform. They are multiple, varied according to persons, societies and cultures. If we all look back to our own childhood we have all learned most of the things useful for our lives by doing and our experiences from doing. The level of understanding may vary according to person. So our learning practices should become useful to create better and sustainable living systems in our own contexts. Our learning skills should enable us to become responsible persons with freedom. Learning is an integrated process of knowing the difference between needs and wants. We can have this discerning capacity if only we derive the understanding from our experiences. I strongly believe that all our efforts need to be gathered to let grow multiple possibilities of learning respecting various intelligences to shape our society.

Arvind Gupta
Arvind Gupta Toys

There is a time for play and a time for learning, and sometimes a time for both. Toys and games, all based on simple science aimed at stimulating the young scientist in all of us, and made from everyday household objects that we’d otherwise throw away. They are the creations of this man, Arvind Gupta, an engineer, teacher, toy maker and book lover, someone who is still as fascinated with the science around us as he would like his young protégés to be.

“You could make a toy train with this… Now this is like the two parallel lines of a railway track, and this is the engine, right? And this is Shivaji Nagar station right? And it comes to the Poona junction, which is the terminus. It doesn’t go back to Shivaji Nagar.”

“If you stick a picture of a monkey on it, it will look like a monkey climbing a coconut tree.”

Appealing to a child’s natural sense of curiosity, he never fails to cast his spell. In his time he has invented hundreds of innovative ways of introducing science to children. Like this humble coin and a coat hanger to illustrate the complexities of centrifugal force:

“Slowly lift your finger and make it vertical. You can’t do that instantly, because there are so many forces, you have got to experience them. Its a very complex thing.

Simple demonstrations aimed at being understood by the simplest of minds in theory. Keeping simplicity and affordability as his guiding, Gupta’s mission is to show that how even the poorest communities can excite the young with the magic of science, by drawing from the growing amounts of waste we produce.

Discarded drinks packs, cycle inner tubes, toothpaste tubes, batteries, film canisters, all can find new life as scientific tools. Gupta believes that children should be brought up to regard waste as the birthplace of new creation, and he has every right to blow his own trumpet.

To the children the whole world is a laboratory; they are doing science all the time without being told that. Children can learn a great deal without being taught. Now this is adult arrogance that we teach. Children are born learners; they were born to learn, so they learn all the time. With evermore demand for innovators in science and technology, many future leaders may have been created here.

“I can do it, I am a scientist.”

Single handedly he has drawn thousands of children into the magical world of science. Basic scientific principles from the simplest of everyday objects, but from the small things big things can grow.

Gagan Bhai
Chairman, Centre for Social Justice

To me the education or a learning model as initiated by Paulo Frère stills holds good in today’s turbulent context. In simple terms he talks of education, as naming the word and the word is the world. Which means that in the naming process a person becomes aware of the world around him and is able to then reflect on the name and then is enabled to construct a change process to change the world. Therefore true education is the process for naming, reflecting and acting. And the process of renaming and that cycle moves on in perpetuity. I think that this pedagogy that is particularly well captured in “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, becomes the core rational for many learning designs in the modern context. And my own experience has shown it to be a very powerful change agent, change process right from children to women. I feel people who can focus on their own experience through naming their experience and then link it up with what is going on outside, to use that difference then to muster energies to change their own situation. Thus it becomes a tool for liberation, it becomes a tool for creative expression and can foster the value of humility, foster the value of learning and foster the respect of other fellow beings in the world.

Co- Founder, Urban Think

Hi. Today I am going to talk to you about learning. Its what we humans do the most in our lives. All our lives we spend actually learning. Its such a natural process, that as babies we begin to do it as soon as we are born. We start looking at adults and see what is that they are doing and start imitating and one wanting to learn. The three perspectives that I want to talk about learning, but first let me answer the question what is learning. Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge, acquiring any kind of knowledge or skill. The second is it is become informed or become acquainted with a particular thing. So, you know, I have learnt that lets say, I have learnt that, elections are difficult to predict. Now this is a learning that I have got through years of experience. Or it is to memorize like learn the tables or it is to master and gain the experience, so I learnt to cook a beautiful dish. So these are various kinds of learning that we do. There are actually Jacks Gerarlds, a very famous educationalist, who found Dallas Commission and put a wonderful report called ‘Learning to be’ – talked about four types of learning. The first is ‘learning to know’. We learn so that we can understand processes and are able to therefore understand how the world around us functions. The second is actually ‘learning to do’ because as human beings its not enough that we are just learning g about things happening around us. We also are people who like to act on what we have learned. Therefore the second type of learning is ‘learning to do’. So we must also learn what we are going to do with our skills, with our knowledge, with our experience, with our understanding and how we are going to impact the rest of the world. The third thing he talks about is ‘learning to live together’. In our complex evolving world where we are constantly divided by the world around us, we need to actually come up with ways of being able to live together. Its not enough that we only learn how to economically be successful in this world by learning to do and learning to know. And the fourth is a sense of calm, a sense of purpose comes to us and that is what he talks about is ‘learning to be’. We must learn to be, to be ourselves, to be with ourselves, to be whatever we want to do. So, the fourth area talks about what is learning to be. But the fifth type that he talks is actually very critical in the world today, that is ‘learning throughout life’. Today world is a complex place and we need to learn that we must learn how to learn throughout our life and actually continue this process as we go along. Thank you.”

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