26 Mar 2018
First things first: What learning is? As usual, one can find a number of different definitions but their common base seems to be that “learning is a change in the behavior as a result of an experience”. OK, but then what “experience” really is and how it affects our behavior?
The roots of modern approach to learning can be traced back at the beginning of the previous century in the development of the so-called “Behavioral School” of Psychology. Behavioral psychologists see behavioral change as the direct result of rewards and punishments: the rewarded behavior is repeated and the punished one is stopped. Behaviorists treat human nature almost as “tabula rasa”: prominent scholars suggested that if they were given a newborn baby they could develop it, following the behavioral psychology principles, to whichever personality they would like! “Social Learning Theory” further advanced behavioral approach by suggesting that we learn not only based on our own experiences but also by observing the experiences of others. Two are the critical points according to this view: the “importance” of these “others” for the subject of the learning process, and the level of receptiveness to the experience (whether we simply care or not about what is happening to others).
The basic criticism to the behavioral approach is that it is just not reasonable to treat human beings as “neutral” objects which react in the same way to environmental input, independently of personal characteristics, preferences, traits. “Cognitive Approach” was based on the assumption that all human beings have a natural tendency (a “need”) to assign meaning to whatever is happening to them. It is the well-known “why question”. The way in which we provide answers to this question (different people give different answers according to their personal characteristics) create the so-called “casual attributions”: it is like a path that we use – “by default” – in order to answer questions of similar nature in the future.
Somewhere in between of these two “grant theories” lie the third one: the “Constructivist Theory”. According to this approach humans are constantly in an effort to “master” their environment. “Schemas” (or “schemata”, i.e., cognitive representations of reality) are developed as a result of this ongoing interaction and are subsequently used as general models for the understanding of the surrounding world (“cosmos”). New knowledge is developed in two ways: either as “assimilation” of new information on existing schemas or as “accommodation” of existing schemas in order for them to fit to new information.
“Experiential Learning”, a development of Constructivist Theory and probably the most suitable approach to adult learning sees learning as a process of knowledge creation through the “transformation of experience”. It is the result of the combination of “grasping” (how humans prefer to “take” the information, either by “abstract conceptualization” or by “concrete experience”) and “transforming” the experience (how individuals interpret and act on the information they have received, either by “reflective observation” or by “active experimentation”).
So the question remains: how do you prefer to learn?