Learning can take place everywhere, anytime and in many different ways. It allows us to progress in our careers, our lives and anything that we might find interesting. In the digital era, knowledge even becomes more readily available than ever before (for those having access to it) providing an enormous learning potential.
But the concept of learning is complex and multi-faceted. Without starting an academic or philosophical debate, I would like to start thinking about the concept of learning by looking at different purposes and intensities of learning.
- Learning is a broad concept having different intensities, such as adding bits of new knowledge to your body of knowledge and overthrowing everything you once understood as being true.
- In addition, learning can have different purposes; for instance being able to answer a question, to carry out a task, or using your knowledge and understanding to develop new knowledge and start innovations.
Each type of learning has its own specific characteristics in terms of styles, methods, tools, didactics and learning environments.
In the figure below I propose an example of how characteristics differ per type of learning.
Intensity of learning: added to the (personal) existing body of knowledge (constructive)
Purpose of learning: directly use knowledge and understanding
Learning contributes to slightly improving conducting a task.
For example: instruction course on working with an ICT tool
Learning contributes to build further towards new knowledge, innovation and new opportunities
For example: a language course/ specific non-work related subject course
Purpose of learning: use what is learned to develop new knowledge and start innovations and new opportunities
Learning contributes to do things differently on the basis of a new understanding.
For example: a training on management skills or a personality training
Learning contributes to changes in career, work, society etc.
For example: learning by experiencing a life-changing, disruptive event
Intensity of learning: creating a (personal) ‘paradigm shift’ (disruptive)
Many other examples can be mentioned here, but the point is that when we speak about learning, we might refer to different concepts of learning. The one might refer to instruction, the other to learning as disruption. There is no right and wrong as long as we are aware that we’re talking about different concepts. This is even more important when choosing learning methods, styles and environments: the type of learning envisaged impacts on how to use methods and styles and how to design the learning environment.
Simon Broek has been involved in several European research projects on education, labour market issues and insurance business. He advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and European Agencies on issues related to education policies, lifelong learning, and labour market issues, and is Managing Partner at Ockham Institute of Policy Support.