What is Learning?

What is Learning?

The idea of learning is nothing new to researchers. Learning has evolved from simple reading, writing and arithmetic to the demands of these skills on a higher level. Learning is no longer basic as once thought.  According to Simon(1996),  the meaning of knowing has shifted from being able to remember and repeat information to being able to find it and use it (Bransford, John D.,Brown, Ann L., Cocking, Rodney, R.,2000). In this era of high stakes testings, it seems the requirement of schoolchildren all over the United States is to demonstrate their learning regurgitation of information, but yet that is not the skillset that is required of them when they enter the world following high school. As students leave high school, they are required to critical thinking skills that allow them according to Bransford, successfully navigate the complexities of life. Students come into school with background knowledge due to their experiences, teachers can use the knowledge of students to deeper in meaning and help students use that basic knowledge to ask and develop questions. We want students to be successful in life, yet we are requiring them to read and regurgitate what they are learning in the form of tests. Learning is much more than the facts that are found in texts. Learning should be about the relationships between things, the why questions students should be asking as they are reading about Pearl Harbor or about the circulatory system. There is a shift in learning as teachers move away from memorization and move towards the development of critical thinking skills. Students are being required to develop the ability to frame and ask meaningful questions in an effort to develop a fundamental understanding about subjects (Bransford at el., 2000). The goal of the K-12 system should be to develop learners that ask questions that lead higher levels of thinking, not to see what they have memorized. Technology is something that can’t be thrown into a classroom and students expected to know how to use it. Students are surrounded by technology daily, but if they don’t have the basic knowledge of how something works or what has happened in the past, using all the technology won’t help them gain that basic understanding. A computer won’t critical think or problems solve for a student, they need those skills in basic everyday situations.


Experts are those who have developed expertise in a particular area (Bransford at el., 2000). Students when they enter the K-12 education system are not experts by any means. But it is important to understand the difference between expert and novices in order to assist students through their educational journey, since students are now required to have a high level of critical thinking skills to be successful in life. Experts have the ability to chunk information when it is given to them. Studies have shown that short term memory is enhanced when people are able to chunk information into familiar patterns (Bransford at el., 2000).  I find this to be quite true as over 10 years following my 10th grade Biology class, I am able to recite back information regarding the pattern of Kingdom, Phylum, etc. Chunking is an effective method to use with novice learners as they are able to organize it around the ‘core concept,’ (Bransford at el., 2000). The difference with novices is when they are asked about these ‘core concepts’ they believe these concepts are the information they have memorized and need to recall and manipulate equations to get answers (Bransford, 2000). Perhaps the biggest difference between experts and novices is experts go beyond the facts and figures because they know there is an answer but it requires deeper thought. Novices will answer question similar in manner to how they would answer a multiple choice test (Bransford at el., 2000, P. 42).  Novices can’t be blamed for how they answer because of the way they are taught to respond. If students don’t have the basic knowledge, a teacher will have difficulty, “drawing out and working with existing understandings,” which according to Bransford(2000), is important for learners of all ages.



Bransford, J. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368


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