The ability to learn is the most marked trait of human beings. Learning is a process - a journey. It actually takes place throughout our life, in different ways and in different contexts, beginning when we are in the womb, where evidence seems to show that at least the beginning of language acquisition is taking place. In fact it is almost impossible to stop people learning in some form or other all the time. The commonwealth publication "Learning Processes" explores different theories of learning and how they have influenced different philosophies of education. It identifies the different ways in which people learn and the factors which inhibit or facilitate learning. The module also looks at experiential learning, as the method most appropriate to an 'Educator', and appropriate strategies for face-to-face work with learners and training situations with adults.
The module is divided into seven units. The first unit sets out a basic model of understanding about how we learn. This unit offers us the opportunity to analyse what learning is. It also introduces us to the main theories of learning and how learning takes place. We often think of learning as intentional and deliberate, but most learning occurs informally at an unconscious level and may be unintentional. The research done by noted linguist Noam Chomsky has given us some insight into the ways people acquire language, mathematics, science and social skills - at a level that we may not be conscious of. It suggests that we all have much more capacity to learn than we use.
Unit-2 focuses on the philosophical and psychological aspects of learning. It also discusses the role of the teacher in adult education and the environmental factors that affect the learning process. One of the aspects of positive philosophy of learning is to develop the whole person. Therefore the main aim of education should be to contribute to a person's development in all three areas or domains mentioned by American educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom: psychomotor, cognitive, and affective. Thus there is a need for a diversity of teaching-learning approaches within any given learning situation. In contemporary philosophy, the general position is: 'Educators are also becoming aware of the other side of the coin - that the learner's powers are vastly enhanced when not only his intellect is stimulated but also when his feelings are respected, his body is nurtured, and his will to learn is strengthened.' (Philosophies of the Branches of Knowledge, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 1996)
The third unit examines different types of learning and education, in particular informal learning. Learning is not just restricted to what happens at school. In fact a great deal of learning takes place outside formal educational institutions. The agents of informal education can be family, school, religious organisations, community organisations, peer groups, mass media, cultural institutions, and workplaces.
The fourth unit deals with the factors that help and hinder learning. It also focuses the characteristics of an environment that is conducive to learning.
Unit-5 helps us to understand how adults learn and the factors which have to be considered when dealing with adult learners. By the time we reach adulthood, we have developed into individuals with different sets of experiences and attitudes to learning. This unit also explores the characteristics of adult learners and how an educator can best facilitate learning opportunities for them through a strategy called self-directed learning.
Unit-6 presents a concept of learning that focuses on the different ways that different people prefer to learn. People are complex creatures. Our biological hardware is more or less the same, but we are physically, psychologically, neurologically and culturally different from each other. Therefore, people differ in the way they think, process information and solve problems. Should we always facilitate or teach different learners in the same manner? The importance of using a wide variety of training styles to suit different learners and the socio-cultural factors that affect learning style are discussed very nicely in this unit.
The seventh unit of the module focuses on the topic 'Facilitating Adult Learners'. It explores methods and resources appropriate to adult learning and that will also make an adult learning programme more effective. This unit also discusses about what evaluation is in adult education and what criteria to be decided when designing the programme. In the last section of the module, the writers include five Appendices: 1). The automatic systems in the mind; 2) Scaffolding and the zone of proximal development; 3) The nature of knowledge; 4) Learning Styles, and 5) Learning Strategies. These readings will help the readers to expand their understanding of different ways of learning.
- M. Rayhanul Islam is an independent researcher