Learn about learning

“Learning is what you do when you don’t know what to do”
(Claxton, 1999)

To learn is to acquire knowledge or skills through experience, practice, study, or by being taught. We are born to learn – to be alive is to be learning.

We learn at different rates

Professionals often talk about developmental milestones. These are a set of functional skills or age-specific tasks that most children and young people can do at a certain age range. Although each milestone has an age level, the actual age when a normally developing child reaches that milestone can very quite a bit. Every person is unique!

When we talk about normal development, we are talking about developing skills like:

  • Gross motor: use of large groups of muscles to stand, walk, run, balance and changing positions
  • Fine motor: using hands to be able to eat, dress, play, draw, write, and do many other things
  • Language: speak, use body language and gestures, communicate and understand what others say
  • Cognitive: thinking skills: including learning, understanding, problem-solving, reasoning, and remembering
  • Social: interacting with others, having relationships with family, friends, and teachers, cooperating, and responding to the feelings of others

Learning requires diverse processes

How we learn is not something we normally give much thought to – we simply take it for granted that we do. It’s only when “normal development” doesn’t take place that we start to question what processes are involved in learning. Psychologists and educators have tried to analyse and categorise the ways in which learning takes place.

Their analyses most commonly identify three ‘domains’ of learning:

  • Cognitive: the learning of symbols, concepts, language, facts, relations etc.
  • Affective: the learning of feelings, values and attitudes
  • Psychomotor: the learning of fine and gross motor skills and eye-hand coordination

We often use all three domains for most everyday activities. For example writing a story has cognitive aspects (understanding language), affective aspects (choosing to write a happy or sad story), and psychomotor aspects (physically writing the words on the page).

While there are many theories as to how cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills are acquired, central to all these theories is the interplay between the physiological brain and the environment in which we live and interact.

Learning does not proceed at a steady pace

We learn at different rates. For example, a gifted child needs to repeat something in their area of special ability 1 – 3 times to master that skill or task whereas the “average” child will need to repeat something 7 – 11 times to learn something new. A person who experiences learning difficulties will take even longer to acquire a new skill.

Learning changes as we get older

Studies of how our brain works and develops demonstrate that our experiences impact upon the way our brain is wired and functions – and the skills we develop. We also know that until such time as the brain itself has developed the necessary connections and pathways, certain skills and tasks are not possible to achieve.

Neuroscientists use to believe that by the time a child reached puberty, the crucial transformations in brain development and circuitry had taken place. Data obtained through the available technology supported this view as the brain structures in adolescents seemed entirely comparative the adult brain.

This view of the adolescent brain has undergone a radical shift as new technology has enabled us to gain a better understanding of brain development. We now know the brain is not fully mature until approximately 25 years of age.

There is a reason why teenagers will engage in risky activities that mature adults will not entertain!

LEARNING NEVER STOPS… at least not while we are alive!