This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

What is learning? #ocTEL week 3

‘Think about the last time you learnt something’ is the starting prompt for this activity. I’m finding this itself a surprisingly difficult task. Not because I can’t remember learning anything recently, but because once I started to think about it I (a) found it difficult to isolate a single piece of learning, and (b) realised that we learn all of the time, and I was struggling to draw general conclusions from the variety of types of learning. The typology provided helped with this somewhat…

Every day you learn small facts, like the name of a new colleague. How do you learn these? People tell you them, or you find them out somehow. But what does it mean to say that you’ve learnt a fact like someone’s name? I’m terrible for forgetting people’s names as soon as I am introduced to them. So just hearing the name doesn’t count as learning it. Learning it means more than just being aware of it briefly, it also involves committing it to memory in some way, perhaps through use or some kind of memory aid. This is the most basic form of learning, I.a. on the typology provided by ocTEL.

The more complex forms of learning in the typology (II. know-how and III. knowing in action) are harder to pin down. Yesterday I learnt how to lengthen the cord on a grass strimmer (the sun was out and the grass needed a cut). I learnt how to do it by trial and error, prodding and swearing at various bits until it did what I wanted it to do. I could have learnt how to do it by reading the manual, but I’m not sure I’d have been confident to say that I’d learnt how to do it until I’d successfully had a go in practice. So would having read he manual and understood the process in theory counted as know-how, whilst being successful in practice count as knowing in action? I think this is a fairly simple example of these kinds of learning – a specific task that I learnt how to do. More general skills, such as critical analysis, or facilitation of online discussions, are much harder to analyse in terms of the learning process.

That’s as far as I’ve got with this so far. I’m determined to catch up with some of the other activities so I’m not going to spend any more time on this for now.

Teaching Fellow and Online Learning Specialist at the University of Leeds

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