How/Why do people learn?

What causes someone to be willing to learn? “Willing” is the operative word here because without a desire to learn something, the learning process is sure to be stymied.

From readings, conversations with my sons and students, and from my own experience, it seems a prerequisite for learning is that whatever is being learned must have some relevancy to the learner. There has to be a reason for bothering to engage with the topic.

In typical schools, the reason for learning often is that the student has to get through the content in order to complete the course of education. I do wonder if that type of learning is true learning, as opposed to just satisfying requirements. When a student is excited about the material and wants to learn, there is a much deeper engagement with the content and, I believe, true learning can take place.

When that desire is not present, when the content does not present relevancy to the learner, then the prerequisite for learning rests on developmental maturity. The learner needs to be sufficiently mature to understand that despite what they feel towards the material, they need to engage because of requirements and expectations, and because doing so may benefit them in the long run. (I am writing here of students ranging from adolescent to adult.)

Of all of the above I am certain, based upon instinct and experience and conversational data gathering. And now for something based a bit more on research, I point you to an in-depth overview of How People Learn, as organized and summarized on the Internet Time Blog. Jay Cross, the blog’s author, has pulled together myriad resources and references, including the first two below that I had planned on pointing out before stumbling upon his blog.

Here is the Executive Summary of How People Learn; Brain, Mind, Experience and School, the entire book which can be read online for free.

Funderstanding’s About Learning, which explains twelve different theories on how people learn.

Marc Prensky, who coined the terms “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”, is a believer in learning through digital games. Jay Cross appears to have read much of Marc’s writings on the topic and has included “a great list of theories of how people learn” based upon Prensky’s book Digital Game–Based Learning.

How do People Learn is a succinctly written article prepared for people who make their living training others. This article is part of the Global Development Research center that, among other initiatives, focuses on education.


One thought on “How/Why do people learn?

  1. Steve Rosenbaum

    I’ve been asking people the question, how to people learn? a lot these days. More specifically, how do you learn. I’m surprised by the big range of answers. Most people who have done well have figured something out. Even motivations for learning are very different. Some of it is learning styles but there seems to be a lot greater variation.

    I will say that most people start off with a high level of motivation but in a short time they hit an obstacle. Things are simply not as easy as they thought or even different than they thought. It’s no longer about the subject matter or skill, it’s about a loss of confidence. This is way in a corporate world you get most of your turnover in the first 90 days. This is also why kids give up on a lot of things in a few days or a week.

    I think great coaches and teachers learn to recognize that this is going to happen and are there ready to pick people up and reengergize them.

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