What is learning?

It doesn’t matter HOW you learn if you ARE learning.

Perhaps an over-simplified point.  Nevertheless, how you learn has to come first.  What you learn comes next.  Without the ‘how’ you can’t have the ‘what’.

photo by Jeezny

photo by Jeezny

But where does ‘how’ end and ‘what’ begin?  Does a person know when they are learning?  At what point do you know you’re learning the right thing?  Does a top grade prove you’ve mastered:

  • The ‘how’;
  • the ‘what’;
  • both;
  • neither;
  • or something else entirely?

Take the person next to you in a seminar.  They may be on the same degree, studying the same modules, but you will both learn different things and you will learn in different ways.

For all the similarities between yourself and a person next to you, your focus is unique, so you must be responsible for what you learn.  You can learn to play the trumpet, but it won’t be worth a thing if you were meant to be researching computational physics.  A stupid example, but it shows that a link must be achieved before you can learn with a particular end goal in mind.

If that’s the case, what exactly is the ‘what’ of learning?  You can learn anything, but the true relevance is in tackling what is appropriate to your situation.

In this regard, you can only take an ‘educated guess’.  That guess may be quite obvious to you and it may be the same guess the vast majority of people make.  However, this doesn’t make it any more objective.  Your job in learning is to develop, to understand, to question, and to explore.

That’s a pretty open remit.

But you’re not alone.  Guidance and motivation are provided along the way.  Tutors help shape your experience and give you a platform to start from.

At this point, learning itself is more important than the tutor or the student.  Tutors cannot be expected to dish out answers and clear the way until a single, specific path is left open.  Many paths are available, none of which are simply ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

Learning is subjective.  And that’s okay, because higher learning wouldn’t exist without subjectivity, no matter what the topic.  Break things down to their core concepts and it’s still difficult to give a definitive answer to a question such as, “What is learning?”

Such uncertainty sounds negative at first.  But it’s not.  It’s exciting.  The possibilities are endless.  And the power is yours.

You need to do one thing.  It’s the most simple and most difficult thing about study within higher education.  You must take responsibility for your learning.  ‘How’ you learn and ‘what’ you learn will somehow fit in naturally after that.  But you need to want it.

Keep going down the road long enough and you may even find that valid link between trumpet playing and computational physics.