Sunday, May 01, 2005

Learning Theory

The dictionary tells us that learning is "gaining knowledge or skill" or "a relatively permanent change in understanding or behavior." These definitions leave me cold, because they focus entirely on the learner, as if one can learn in a vacuum. That's impossible. Without a stimulus, there's no response. Without a context, there's no content. Without faith that things can work better, there is no incentive to learn.

Learning is interaction. It results from people striving to improve their fit with their surroundings.

William James figured this one out in 1890. Complex thinking is a product of evolution; it's a survival tool. The best learners survive. Learning is a means of using one's consciousness and behavior to adapt to the environment.

Consciousness can't be chopped into little pieces for scientific study; it's all or nothing. A stream of consciousness is ever flowing; stop the flow and it's something different. You can't take a sllice for analysis.

Researchers have come up with marvellous frameworks to describe the process(es) of learning. Bandura talks of Attention, Retention, Behavior, and Motivation. Don Norman describes accretion, structuring, tuning, and analogy.

ref on James: The Story of Psychology, by Morton Hunt
The William James site at Emory University

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