What does it mean to learn something new?

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What does it mean to learn something new?

When you hear the word ‘learn,’ you may think of when you take in new information and increase your overall knowledge. This could be through either your own experiences, periods of hard work and study, or by being taught. Although this is true, when you learn a complex process is also taking place within your body.

You may or may not know, that when you learn something new a biological process begins. This process can involve any or all the sensory organs, such as the eyes or the ears, as well as your brain.

As we take in new information and learn, our brain does something amazing! It forms and grows new threads within our minds, called neural interconnections. Now, the first thing to note, is that as with any organ in the body, learning has its limitations. If we could all learn as much as we wanted easily and quickly, then we would all be top-notch surgeons or scientists… maybe.

The truth

The truth of the matter is, if not reused and reinforced, these new connections in the brain will fade over time. Simply put, this means you will forget what it is you learnt.

For example, think back to when you were a child and you learnt something new that you can no longer remember clearly. Personally, I remember singing certain nursery rhymes in school, however, I can’t quite put my finger on the exact lyrics anymore. As I haven’t heard or sang them in many years, the neural interconnections that were strong, have over time faded. So what was once clear in my mind, is now only a hazy memory.

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How do we learn?

To understand how we learn something new, one must first understand and appreciate our individual differences. From this, I mean what works great for one person may not work so well for another, and it’s important to understand that we all learn best in slightly different ways.

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The VARK model

A model developed by Neil Fleming illustrates this perfectly, as he splits the styles of learning into four main categories in the VARK model.

• Visual

• Auditory

• Reading/Writing

• Kinaesthetic

To summarise

Each of us will have a preferred, more dominant style in which we learn by easier and more effectively. That’s not to say that one style runs across all subjects, or that we don’t in fact take in new information by using all these styles. However, by understanding and using this model we can better understand how people learn, and therefore are able to better teach.

So, in answer to the question, what does it mean to learn? It means to create new connections and understandings within the brain. However, the methods in which we do this best can vary, and if not reinforced and reused the information learnt will soon be forgotten.

By understanding the VARK model and applying it to the learning process throughout training design at the beginning, we can increase the effectiveness of training, ensure new neural interconnections are reinforced and overall improve the learning process as well as its results.

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