All about learning

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.

According to Horst Siebert, “A human being is a ‘homo discens’, a learning being. People keep learning for as long as they live. Living is inextricably connected to learning.”

What is learning?

There is no simple answer to this question because there is no widely accepted definition for learning. Neurologically speaking, learning occurs thanks to interconnected neuronal networks. Behaviourists would call it a reaction to stimuli and reinforcement. Cognitive psychologists might liken it to problem-solving with the aid of tested patterns of action and the development of new patterns to address new situations. And constructivists would see learning as an explanation for changes in constructs of reality.

Let us venture a definition: Learning represents a stable change of behaviour or newly acquired patterns of behaviour with cognitive, social and affective knowledge elements rooted in individual experiences in/with the environment. In other words, learning is the long-term accumulation of knowledge and skills.

  • © Spiegel Spezial 2003

    How do adults learn?

    No two people learn alike in a lecture, seminar or training session. What and how adults learn depend on their learning background, learning habits, pre-existing psycho-social structures, cognitive and emotional patterns, and tried-and-tested problem-solving strategies. They want to apply their past experiences to these new challenges.

    Adults do not “soak up” knowledge like children do. Neurologists have discovered three “detectors” which play key roles in adult-stage learning:
      - Novelty detector
      - Connection detector
      - Relevance detector

    For example, when listening to a presentation, adults do not consciously hear everything the speaker says – and for good reason, because such an overload of information would overwhelm them. Rather, they hear what they can understand, what matches their thought patterns, what they can relate to, what they can use, and what they find “remarkable”.

    Ultimately, it comes down to this:

    • The brain is never too old to learn something new. Our ability to learn does not decrease with age, but rather our willingness.
    • Everyone is capable of learning – the ability to learn can be practised and improved.
  • Sustainable learning and application of acquired knowledge

    It is widely known that participants apply only seven to ten percent of what they learn in their courses in practical situations or everyday working life. Why so little?

    The answer lies in HOW adults learn. What we learn only remains “anchored” if we need the information in the here and now, if it serves a purpose, if it is relevant to our activities. The elements of sustainable learning are:

    • meaningfulness of the topic
    • practical relevance
    • connectivity
    • sense of flow
    • diverse learning paths
    • pleasant learning atmosphere
    • metacognitive reflection

    Moreover, we must consider the potential for retention. According to the standard formula, we retain:

    • 20 % of what we hear
    • 50 % of what we hear and see
    • 70 % of what we hear, see and repeat
    • 90 % of what we hear, see, repeat and put into practice ourselves
  • Recommendations for successful learning

    The word “learn” derives from the Gothic lais, meaning “I know” and the Indo-Germanic word lis, meaning “to go” (Wasserzieher, 1974). The etymology of the word points to the fact that learning is a process. The learning process consists of:

    - planning
    - expanding knowledge and ability by absorbing, processing and saving information
    - applying new knowledge and skills


    Before the course: Plan on what you would like to learn

    In contrast to children, adults have to define relevant learning goals on their own.

    As a learner, you will only be motivated to attend each lesson and retain the content if you set your own learning goals and are familiar with how best you learn. Ask yourself the following questions:

    • How strong is my motivation? (determine your motivation)
    • What am I especially interested in? (focus on your topics of interest)
    • What do I want to know and be able to do after the course?
    • What do I already know about the topic? What am I already good at?
    • How do I learn best? What teaching and learning formats are planned for the course?

    By making a plan, you can ensure that you will feel comfortable in the course.

    During the course: Process new content and information

    During the course, we recommend writing a learning diary. This tool can help you absorb and process new information in a personal way.

    The learning diary encourages you to start planning how you want to apply what you’ve learned even before the course has ended. According to the well-known 72-hour rule, you should start implementing any plan you want to achieve within 72 hours, otherwise the likelihood of ever achieving your goal will drop to one percent.

    This is a learning diary template which you can extend for as long as you wish.

    After the course: Put what you’ve learned into practice

    Work with a partner or in a small group from the same course and help each other apply what you have learned. Arrange a meeting and discuss your plans. Use the discussion to talk about your successes and failures, what you’ve achieved, where you haven’t succeeded so far and possible reasons why. Only then can you learn in a sustainable way!

    We also recommend meeting with your supervisor after the seminar/training session to discuss ways to implement what you’ve learned in your everyday routine. Your direct supervisor is, in fact, your personnel development advisor on location. It is best to speak openly about what kind of support you need to achieve your objectives. Also make an appointment to provide your supervisor feedback on your learning progress.

  • © athree23/pixabay

    Learning effect

    We learn the easiest when there is no other way to proceed. This story illustrates what such a learning process can look like.

    On the first day, someone is walking down a street. Suddenly they fall into a hole which unexpectedly opens at their feet. Falling into it, they feel like they’re dying and desperately call for help. And in fact, somebody shows up and pulls them out.

    On the second day, the person walks down the same street and tumbles into the hole again. They are afraid but this time manage to climb out of the hole by themselves.

    On the third day, the same person walks down the street and falls into the hole again – out of sheer habit. They curse their stupidity and clamber back out as before.

    On the fourth day, the person walks down the same street, but crosses to the other side before reaching the hole.

    On the fifth day, they choose a different street.

    (based on a parable by Nossrat Peseschkian)