Some Observations of Learning

  • Learning occurs within brains, but outside of brains too. Scientists have documented changes in how blood flows in the brain after learning has occurred. This is interpreted as previously unused neural pathways becoming activated during the learning. When the knowledge is used subsequently, the same neural pathways are active. The nature of these pathways has filled many books.  In the last few decades, scholars have begun to recognize the cognition that humans have transferred to the environment. Once we learn to write, we can effectively “download” memory to bits of paper (or now bytes of information), so human learning can be considered to have both neural components and environmental components.
  • Learning is a multi-dimensional process involving perception, recollection, analyzing, creating, and otherwise engaging with information and ideas. As we will see, there are several different types of learning and those who have learned are capable of far more than repeating information.
  • We become “smarter” through effort. Our brains and our cognitive abilities are similar to muscles, they improve with practice. This practice is not solely an individual effort, however. When we interact with others, both mentors and peers, we tend to build stronger memories and we find more connections to what we have learned. What and how we know is affected by the people around us as well as what we have already learned. Some of the effort to become smarter is affected by our approach to learning as well.
  • Some learning is permanent; but our cognitive abilities change over time, and especially our memories are very faulty. Much that we learned early in our lives has been forgotten and much that we think we remember we are actually misremembering.