There are many definitions what learning is and how learning happens: Do what you cannot, trial and error, participate and get inspired etc. We are all experts in learning. We are all life-long learners. We all have our own learning experiences, ideas and strategies.

What is learning? When and where do adults learn?


Photo: Mark Brannan , Flickr

Here are four definitions of learning I like:

I do always what I cannot in order to learn.

Ik maak steeds wat ik niet kan om het te kunnen leren.

Vincent Van Gogh

I like it because it implies passion and curiosity. It’s the autodidact driven to accomplish something new. The children exercising till they manage to walk, ride a bicycle, swim the freestyle stroke. The ambition to learn new things never ends. When I was still teaching German as foreign language my oldest student was Giuseppe from Rome. He was 81.

Failure is a great teacher, and I think when you make mistakes and you recover from them and you treat them as valuable learning experiences, then you’ve got something to share.

Steve Harvey

I like this because it’s an invitation to go ahead: to dare to try, explore, and probe; to take some risk and fail smartly in order to learn and innovate. With an open and honest (organisational) attitude calculated failures can be a great learning trigger. Read also Doug Sundheim: To increase innovation, take the sting out of failure.

Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.

Ivan Illich

Learning IS participation. In each stage of life, being part of a meaningful setting allows us to gain valuable experiences, to engage and practice, to be in conversation, reflect and deliberate, to challenge ourselves and each other. Learning is understanding, making sense, connecting.

Learning starts with connecting dots in the brain.

Jeff Hurt

It’s about the light bulb moments when all falls together and becomes crystal clear. Sometimes the penny has to drop. This is possible because our brains are constantly wiring and rewiring, making new connections. Our brains are flexible, adaptable. Learning till high age is possible! This is the most fantastic and also most promising process.

Let’s do what we cannot…

What is your favourite definition of learning?