Modern scientific approaches view learning as a process. We try to demonstrate the contemporary views of learning and its implications for the modern school and education.
Learning already happens before a child is born. In the uterus the soon to be born child learns to recognize the voice and heart rate of the mother, develops functioning senses to explore the world after birth.
The process of learning is characterized by covering all processes that lead to lasting changes in motor, cognitive and psychodynamic capacities or social character. Learning differs from maturation. It involves two fundamental processes; one is the interaction between the learner and the environment, while the other is the inner elaboration and processing of acquired information. (Illeris, 2003)
Children are born with innate curiosity and a drive to explore and learn as much as they can. If the environment provides opportunities for exploration, children are able to preserve this kind of curiosity into latter ages. In an ideal school students are given many opportunities to explore.
Modern learning theory views acquiring new knowledge and skills as an active process, which bases on the active participation of the individual. Previously learning assumed an active stance from the teacher, but passive reception from the learner. Children were viewed as “sponges”, who should only listen to the speech of their educators. (Wilson, Peterson, 2006) The learners of today are actively constructing their experiences instead of being just recipients of readymade solutions.
Dweck (2006) emphasizes the importance of mindsets in learning. She discriminates fixed and growth mindsets, believing the latter to be more successful. Intelligence is not seen as a constant feature, it can be developed and grow. When the mindset of the students as well as teachers focuses on growth, it allows learning even from mistakes. If students are encouraged to understand the value of the mistakes they make at school, they will be less afraid to make them. Growth mindset messages focus on effort, instead of abilities. When trying hard, children improve their ability. When they believe they are smart (or not), it is a fixed mindset message: a smart child strives to always look smart and feels he cannot afford to make mistakes. A not so smart peer might give up easily, he might not believe in his abilities getting better, therefore he settles for average performances. This is not true, both students in the example can learn different attitudes, which are more useful and allow better performances.
Another interesting contemporary view is the approach of Daniel Pink (2005), who bases his ideas on brain structures and development. Learning classically focused on the left hemisphere of the brain, the logical, analytical and detail-oriented half of the brain. A shift from the left side of the brain to the right hemisphere can be observed. The right half, which is more synthesizing, divergent and contextual, grows in importance. The most successful learners use the best attributes of both hemispheres to maximum effect.
Dweck, C. (2006): Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Random House, New York
Illeris, K. (2003): Towards a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning, International Journal of Lifelong Education, Vol. 22, No. 4. July-August 2003, 396-406
Pink, D. (2005): A Whole New Mind: The Importance of the Right Brain, Riverhead Books, New York
Wilson, S. M., Peterson, P. L. (2006): Theories of Learning and Teaching What Do They Mean for Educators?, National Education Assotiation, Washington DC