What does it mean to learn?

The question sounds so innocent doesn't it?

A resource for teachers states: "Even if psychologists ever agree about what learning is, in practice educationalists won't ... ".

Dictionary definitions don't help as they ignore (or worse, trivialise) the legitimate search for what learning encompasses.

Perhaps you can spend a few hours conducting your own search; chances are all you will get is a head-ache.

ASHE has no definitive answer and if pushed would follow the line estabished by Gregory Bateson, that is, that learning has to do with evolution (see the hundredth monkey in side panel.) It was Bateson who discovered in the training of dolphins that these mammals, in order to learn new tricks, had to learn how to learn. (For more on this evolutionary point see this section.)

So if it is not totally known what it means to learn, beyond that change is involved, how are we to develop this essential competency?

Again we return to 'know thyself' which in this case means knowing your learning style. Once you are clear about your own learning style then you are aware of its shortcomings as well as what is required to achieve overall balance.

There are 4 general phases in any learning cycle.

  1. Observing/Listening - where we ask what is there?
  2. Feeling - what do I think and feel about this?
  3. Thinking - what do I need to plan a solution ?
  4. Doing - is my action working?

While we utilise all these stages in each learning cycle being human we have preferences and prejudices which lead us to develop a strong preference for one stage and some aversion to another. Note also that the term is learning 'cycle'; often we go through these stages more than once; and again, because we are human, we don't approach these stages rationally. Each individual will have a different order and allot a different weight to each stage.

The way these stages are followed leads to 4 general styles:

  1. Information gatherer - needs to listen with sensitivity and open mind
  2. Theorist - needs to be organised and involve those with relating skills
  3. Problem solver - needs patience and focus for decision making and to involve those who can communicate
  4. Doer/leader - needs to be practical and value others

In truth it is very hard to change your learning style because it is mostly unconscious. The important point to note is that an individual will only ever have a part of the overall approach needed. That is why so much of the work is collaborative and cooperative. It takes a group to see the whole picture. As the individual was the creation of the modern age (only royalty and aristocracy were known individually until recent times) so the emergent age will be the time of the group.

Learning as a human ecologist is not learning as a traditional scholar. It's not important to be able to regurgitate data; today that's the role of computers. The real learning is about yourself, understanding yourself and about becoming conscious of opinions, preferences and prejudices because these can distort all you see and hear. Then it is about associating with those who balance your learning style.



Who talks, who listens?

During the last quarter of the twentieth century societies at different times came to realise that what was happening was a revolution in communications.

Most interpreted this as learning how to use new technology, namely computers accessing the world wide web and email, along with the discrete digital signaling of mobile/cell phones and a movement away from analogue broadcast in radio and television. These represent the technical aspect of the Communications Revolution.

Who communicates?

Human beings do. Not faxes or email programs or a series of zeros and ones. These mechanical operations are carrying out human instructions, that's all.

The real Revolution is in inter-personal communication.

Many major problems in the world just now are a result of lack of, or poor communication.

Effective inter-personal communication occurs when individuals can properly attend the other, listen in depth, reflect on what has been communicated and respond meaningfully without reaction. Because we are so familiar with our own communication we can easily become blind to the extend of reactivity. Anyone who underestimates this, or worse believes they are not reactive, is denying a major aspect of emergent consciousness. It is the responsibility of anyone who wishes to fully participate in this emergent consciousness to undertake a course in inter-personal communication. Unfortunately this cannot be done online.

As regards corporate or organisational communication the same principle applies. Currently the communication of large organisations lacks genuineness and is uni-lateral. More attention is given to the creation of advertsing than to what might be called editorial communication and the needs of the customer base are relegated to inexpensive, off-shore call centres.

As the human nervous system extends globally via new technology the need for true communication will become increasingly apparent. Fear-based communication, such as that of many profit motivated corporations, will get its just deserts as genuineness and concern for the whole become paramount.


Continue for a helpful preparatory exercise.