Learning is the acquisition and development of memories and behaviors, including skills, knowledge, understanding, values, and wisdom. It is the goal of education, and the product of experience. Learning ranges from simple forms such as habituation to more complex forms such as play (activity), seen only in large vertebrates.
Physiology of learning
"Thought," in a general sense, is commonly conceived as something arising from the stimulation of neurons in the brain. Current understanding of neurons and the central nervous system implies that the process of learning corresponds to changes in the relationship between certain neurons in the brain. Research is ongoing in this area.
Generally, however, it is recognized that the retainment of memory comes easier when multiple parts of the brain (such as hearing, seeing, smelling, motor skills, touch sense, and logical thinking lobes; informal names given) are stimulated.
Types of learning
In psychology, habituation is an example of non-associative learning in which there is a progressive diminution of behavioral response probability with repetition of a stimulus. It is another form of integration. An animal first responds to a stimulus, but if it is neither rewarding nor harmful the animal reduces subsequent responses. One example of this can be seen in small song birds - if a stuffed owl (or similar predator) is put into the cage, the birds initially react to it as though it were a real predator. Soon the birds react less, showing habituation. If another stuffed owl is introduced (or the same one removed and re-introduced), the birds react to it as though it were a predator, showing that it is only a very specific stimulus that is habituated to (namely, one particular unmoving owl in one place). Habituation has been shown in essentially every species of animal, including the large protozoan Stentor coeruleus. 
Sensitization is an example of non-associative learning in which the progressive amplification of a response follows repeated administrations of a stimulus (Bell et al., 1995). An everyday example of this mechanism is the repeated tonic stimulation of peripheral nerves that will occur if a person rubs his arm continuously. After a while, this stimulation will create a warm sensation that will eventually turn painful. The pain is the result of the progressively amplified synaptic response of the peripheral nerves warning the person that the stimulation is harmful. Sensitization is thought to underlie both adaptive as well as maladaptive learning processes in the organism.
Imprinting is the term used in psychology and ethology to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. It was first used to describe situations in which an animal or person learns the characteristics of some stimulus, which is therefore said to be "imprinted" onto the subject.
Operant conditioning is the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of behavior. Operant conditioning is distinguished from Pavlovian conditioning in that operant conditioning deals with the modification of voluntary behavior kuyyjm Edition, Ed. Michael Domjan
The typical paradigm for classical conditioning involves repeatedly pairing an unconditioned stimulus (which unfailingly evokes a particular response) with another stimulus (which does not normally evoke the response). Following conditioning, the response occurs both to the unconditioned stimulus and to the other, unrelated stimulus (now referred to as the "conditioned stimulus"). The response to the conditioned stimulus is termed a conditioned response.
The most basic learning process is imitation, one's personal repetition of an observed process, such as a smile. Thus an imitation will take one's time (attention to the details), space (a location for learning), skills (or practice), and other resources (for example, a protected area). Through copying, most infants learn how to hunt (i.e., direct one's attention), feed and perform most basic tasks necessary for survival.
Example can be a motivation for learning. Imitation of a role model is a natural mechanism for infants and children, when learning from experience. Child's play is another method for learning by the example of other children, who naturally gain satisfaction by playing the role of teacher or mentor to a less-experienced child.
The next form of learning is acquired learning. Teenagers often go through this when it comes to dating, sexual relations, and other areas in which they have received no formal or informal education.
The sandbox (sandpit) in a playground is an example of a location where children can learn by experience. It is instructive to watch smaller children on a merry-go-round, for example, who naturally push it more slowly than the larger, older, more experienced ones. In order for a little one to get on the merry-go-round, they might simply grab a bar and drag their feet in the sand, while holding on. This slows down the rotation, which allows the little one to climb on, under the oversight of a supervisor, to ensure their physical safety.
Play generally describes behavior which has no particular end in itself, but improves performance in similar situations in the future. This is seen in a wide variety of vertebrates besides humans, but is mostly limited to mammals and birds. Cats are known to play with a ball of string when young, which gives them experience with catching prey. Besides inanimate objects, animals may play with other members of their own species or other animals, such as orcas playing with seals they have caught. Play involves a significant cost to animals, such as increased vulnerability to predators and the risk or injury and possibly infection. It also consumes energy, so there must be significant benefits associated with play for it to have evolved. Play is generally seen in younger animals, suggesting a link with learning. However, it may also have other benefits not associated directly with learning, for example improving physical fitness.
Although learning is often thought of as a property associated with living things, computers are also able to modify their own behaviors as a result of experiences. Known as machine learning, this is a broad subfield of artificial intelligence concerned with the design and development of algorithms and techniques that allow computers to "learn". At a general level, there are two types of learning: inductive, and deductive. Inductive machine learning methods extract rules and patterns out of massive data sets.
The major focus of machine learning research is to extract information from data automatically, by computational and statistical methods. Hence, machine learning is closely related to data mining and statistics but also theoretical computer science.
Machine learning has a wide spectrum of applications including natural language processing, syntactic pattern recognition, search engines, medical diagnosis, bioinformatics and cheminformatics, detecting credit card fraud, stock market analysis, classifying DNA sequences, speech and handwriting recognition, object recognition in computer vision, game playing and robot locomotion.
Approaches to learning
Informal learning occurs through the experience of day-to-day situations (for example, one would learn to look ahead while walking because of the danger inherent in not paying attention to where one is going). It is learning from life, during a meal at table with parents, Play, exploring.
Formal learning is learning that takes place within a teacher-student relationship, such as in a school system.
Non-formal learning is organized learning outside the formal learning system. For example: learning by coming together with people with similar interests and exchanging viewpoints, in clubs or in (international) youth organisations, workshops.
Non-formal learning & combined approaches
The educational system may use a combination of formal, informal, and non-formal learning methods. The UN and EU recognize these different forms of learning (cf. links below). In some schools students can get points that count in the formal-learning systems if they get work done in informal-learning circuits. They may be given time to assist international youth workshops and training courses, on the condition they prepare, contribute, share and can proof this offered valuable new insights, helped to acquire new skills, a place to get experience in organising, teaching, etc.
In order to learn a skill, such as solving a Rubik's cube quickly, several factors come into play at once:
- Directions help one learn the patterns of solving a Rubik's cube
- Practicing the moves repeatedly and for extended time helps with "muscle memory" and therefore speed
- Thinking critically about moves helps find shortcuts, which in turn helps to speed up future attempts.
- The Rubik's cube's six colors help anchor solving it within the head.
- Occasionally revisiting the cube helps prevent loss of skill
History of learning
- Learning & Memory - online, peer-reviewed journal with many free access articles
- Worksheets, Maths & More - online, Worksheets, Maths & More
- Learning Objectives
- Education & Learning List of selected links
- Wood, D. C. (1988). Habituation in Stentor produced by mechanoreceptor channel modification. Journal of Neuroscience, 2254 (8).