Learning process

Learning as a process - task-conscious or acquisition learning and learning-conscious or formalized learning

In the five categories that Saljo identified we can see learning appearing as a process - there is a concern with what happens when the learning takes place. In this way, learning could be thought of as 'a process by which behaviour changes as a result of experience'

One of the significant questions that arises is the extent to which people are conscious of what is going on. Are they aware that they are engaged in learning - and what significance does it have if they are? Such questions have appeared in various guises over the years - and have surfaced, for example, in debates around the rather confusing notion of 'informal learning'.

One particularly helpful way of approaching the area has been formulated by Alan Rogers (2003). Drawing especially on the work of those who study the learning of language (for example, Krashen 1982), Rogers sets out two contrasting approaches: task-conscious or acquisition learning and learning-conscious or formalized learning.

Task-conscious or Acquisition Learning

Acquisition learning is seen as going on all the time. It is 'concrete, immediate and confined to a specific activity; it is not concerned with general principles' (Rogers 2003: 18). Examples include much of the learning involved in parenting or with running a home. Some have referred to this kind of learning as unconscious or implicit. Rogers (2003: 21), however, suggests that it might be better to speak of it as having a consciousness of the task. In other words, whilst the learner may not be conscious of learning, they are usually aware of the specific task in hand.

Learning-conscious or Formalized Learning

Formalized learning arises from the process of facilitating learning. It is 'educative learning' rather than the accumulation of experience. To this extent there is a consciousness of learning - people are aware that the task they are engaged in entails learning. 'Learning itself is the task. What formalized learning does is to make learning more conscious in order to enhance it' (Rogers 2003: 27). It involves guided episodes of learning.

When approached in this way it becomes clear that these contrasting ways of learning can appear in the same context. Both are present in schools. Both are present in families. It is possible to think of the mix of acquisition and formalized learning as forming a continuum.

At one extreme lie those unintentional and usually accidental learning events which occur continuously as we walk through life. Next comes incidental learning - unconscious learning through acquisition methods which occurs in the course of some other activity... Then there are various activities in which we are somewhat more conscious of learning, experiential activities arising from immediate life-related concerns, though even here the focus is still on the task... Then come more purposeful activities - occasions where we set out to learn something in a more systematic way, using whatever comes to hand for that purpose, but often deliberately disregarding engagement with teachers and formal institutions of learning... Further along the continuum lie the self-directed learning projects on which there is so much literature... More formalized and generalized (and consequently less contextualized) forms of learning are the distance and open education programmes, where some elements of acquisition learning are often built into the designed learning programme. Towards the further extreme lie more formalized learning programmes of highly decontextualized learning, using material common to all the learners without paying any regard to their individual preferences, agendas or needs. There are of course no clear boundaries between each of these categories. (Rogers 2003: 41-2) This distinction is echoed in different ways in the writings of many of those concerned with education - but in particular in key theorists such as Kurt Lewin, Chris Argyris, Donald Schon, or Michael Polanyi.

 
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