Getting Started

What is Learning?

The word learning is used routinely in discussions about teaching in higher education, so it’s important to clarify what we are referring to when we talk about learning. Educational researchers agree that learning is much deeper than memorization and information recall. Deep and long-lasting learning involves understanding, relating ideas and making connections between prior and new knowledge, independent and critical thinking and ability to transfer knowledge to new and different contexts.

  • Learning is “a process that leads to change, which occurs as a result of experience and increases the potential for improved performance and future learning” (Ambrose et al, 2010, p.3). The change in the learner may happen at the level of knowledge, attitude or behavior. As a result of learning, learners come to see concepts, ideas, and/or the world differently.
  • Learning is not something done to students, but rather something students themselves do. It is the direct result of how students interpret and respond to their experiences.
  • While there are disciplinary differences in what students learn, it is important to keep in mind that learning content or information constitutes only one part of learning in university courses. Regardless of the field of study, students need to have significant opportunities to develop and practice intellectual skills/thinking processes (e.g. problem-solving, scientific inquiry), motor skills and attitudes/values that are important to their fields of study. In addition, students need opportunities to develop interpersonal and social skills (often referred to as soft skills) that are important for professional and personal success. Examples of these skills include teamwork, effective communication, conflict resolution and creative thinking. As teaching assistants and instructors, we need to keep in mind that there is much more to learning than content and that we should pay attention not only to the content but also to thinking processes and other types of learning.