What is learning?

I’ve been reflecting on various definitions of learning and knowledge. Often, knowledge acquisition and learning are used interchangeably. I think they are very different terms (at least when used in the context of what it means to learn today). Acquiring knowledge leaves room for a dormant state (i.e. we know something, but we may not actually do what we know). In contrast, learning involves knowledge acquisition, but is defined by use/doing. When I learn, I’m growing in performance capacity based on acquiring knowledge. If acquired knowledge doesnt’ lead to some type of use, I don’t believe learning has occurred (a changed state of knowledge is only half the process. Our discussions of learning usually acknowledge this half, but fail to account for the equally important “doing”).

Some clarification of terms:

  • Data: raw facts, symbols
  • Information: Data that has been organized, interpreted, processed and made useful (useful being defined as the criterion for which the data was originally collected).
  • Knowledge: information in context (i.e. understanding the significance of information) or information with semantic meaning.
  • Learning: actuated (or actionable) knowledge, doing something with knowledge

I’ve received some comments from readers challenging the notion that learning is actionable knowledge. Dwelling on organizational learning, personal knowledge management, social learning, and networked learning, I’m convinced that in today’s environment, learning isn’t learning unless there is an action component.

2 Responses to “What is learning?”

  1. Yes, a very good point, George. People accumulate plenty of knowledge that’s never actionable. Perhaps it’s at the point that the learner acts upon a piece of knowledge (even by simply connecting/intergrating it with another piece of knowledge) that learning occurs.

  2. Keanann says:

    I support your point. I also believe that learning and knowledge acquisition are two distinct terms. We learn new information everyday; but we do not processes and retain every bit of data that comes our way. However, to be knowledgeable about a given topic we must go be on simply glancing at new information. There are various skills that apply to successful knowledge acquisition. Some examples are; one must be capable to apply their knowledge in various settings, discuss with it with efficiency, explore their knowledge in depth, and use it to teach new learners.