Friday, April 08, 2011

In Search of a Holistic Definition of Learning

The simplest of terms seem to be the hardest to define. I have been searching for a holistic definition of what it means to learn. "Holistic" being how the term relates to other elements of the human experience (e.g knowledge, comprehension, wisdom).

The scent is not an easy one to follow; common dictionary definitions are useless.

I've spent the last week sifting through the many analogous and ambiguous terms that have all been baked indistinguishably into a mushy casserole.

Here are some of the paradoxical questions I have been wrestling through:
  • What is the difference between comprehending, understanding, and learning? I'd say the first two are synonyms, but the 3rd is something altogether different.
  • You can't learn without thinking, but can you think without learning? Yes, only if you agree with my definition of what it means to think. But I don't even know if I agree with my definition.
  • Is knowing, comprehending, and learning different? You can have knowledge, understanding, or even wisdom, but you can't have "learning".
  • We know you can't have wisdom without knowledge, and you can have knowledge without wisdom, but can you have knowledge without learning? I think so.
  • You can know how to learn, but can you learn how to know? Still not sure on that one.
  • Is teaching someone knowledge or a skill different than teaching someone to learn? Absolutely
Am I asking the wrong questions? You have better answers? I'd love to hear your perspective.


Anna said...

Learning is the transition from not knowing to knowing or from not understanding to understanding.

-> That's why you can't have "learning" the way you can have knowledge or wisdom; transitions are short-lived occurrences, not steady states.

-> You can be in a state where you have knowledge but are not learning, but if you have knowledge, then you learned that knowledge sometime in the past. Even if the knowledge just "came" to you without any effort of thinking, you still learned it at that moment.

I think both "knowing how to learn" and "learning to know" are useless phrases, like "green ideas sleep furiously". Maybe if there was some context that gabe them meaning.

In general, a discussion of definitions absent a specific context is of very limited usefulness, because definitions are all about how people use words, and people use words differently depending on context.

DK said...

I agree that learning is a transition or process.

Also I agree that context is everything for communication. I guess what I'm doing here is more personal, trying to sort out all the pieces of the system. Ultimately I think that is helpful in having more meaningful communication, instead of using terms vaguely.

Anna said...

It's only useful for communication if the person you are communicating with has also resolved the precise relationship of the words in the same way you have. In my experience, most people either don't bother to resolve the fine details of meaning, don't use words with absolute consistency and/or use them in a different way than you would be inclined to. So I see more use in trying to determine how someone else is using words in a given conversation than in trying to affix some permanent, inherent meaning to the words.

Now, finding the relationship between the underlying phenomena... that is more interesting. But your questions seemed less aimed in that direction and more in the direction of semantics.

DK said...

True true. This little semantics exercise was the mental gymnastics I have been working out in my own head. The cryptic nature of such a familiar term made me laugh. I am actually far more interested in the underlying phenomena as you mentioned.

I've been pounding out an analogy to understand all of these concepts in relationship to each other. I think you'll appreciate that more. Will post next....

Vijay said...

Jobless !

DK said...


I'm honored that you took the time to comment on my blog, but I don't think I have enough context to understand your message. Care to elaborate?