/lerr"ning/, n.
1. knowledge acquired by systematic study in any field of scholarly application.
2. the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill.
3. Psychol. the modification of behavior through practice, training, or experience.
[bef. 900; ME lerning, OE leornung. See LEARN, -ING1]
Syn. 1. LEARNING, ERUDITION, LORE, SCHOLARSHIP refer to knowledge existing or acquired. LEARNING is the most general term. It may refer to knowledge obtained by systematic study or by trial and error: a man of learning; learning in the real world. ERUDITION suggests a thorough, formal, and profound sort of knowledge obtained by extensive research; it is esp. applied to knowledge in fields other than those of mathematics and physical sciences: a man of vast erudition in languages.
LORE is accumulated knowledge in a particular field, esp. of a curious, anecdotal, or traditional nature; the word is now somewhat literary: nature lore; local lore. SCHOLARSHIP is the formalized learning that is taught in schools, esp. as actively employed by a person trying to master some field of knowledge or extend its bounds: high standards of scholarship in history.

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Process of acquiring modifications in existing knowledge, skills, habits, or tendencies through experience, practice, or exercise.

Learning includes associative processes (see association; conditioning), discrimination of sense-data, psychomotor and perceptual learning (see perception), imitation, concept formation, problem solving, and insight learning. Animal learning has been studied by ethologists and comparative psychologists, the latter often drawing explicit parallels to human learning (see comparative psychology; ethology). The first experiments concerning associative learning were conducted by Ivan Pavlov in Russia and Edward L. Thorndike in the U.S. Critics of the early stimulus-response (S-R) theories, such as Edward C. Tolman, claimed they were overly reductive and ignored a subject's inner activities. Gestalt-psychology researchers drew attention to the importance of pattern and form in perception and learning, while structural linguists argued that language learning was grounded in a genetically inherited "grammar." Developmental psychologists such as Jean Piaget highlighted stages of growth in learning. More recently, cognitive scientists have explored learning as a form of information processing, while some brain researchers, such as Gerald Maurice Edelman, have proposed that thinking and learning involve an ongoing process of cerebral pathway building. Related topics of research include attention, comprehension, motivation, and transfer of training. See also behaviour genetics; behaviourism; educational psychology; imprinting; instinct; intelligence.
(as used in expressions)
Great Learning
Dark Learning

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      the alteration of behaviour as a result of individual experience. When an organism can perceive and change its behaviour, it is said to learn.

Types of learning
      The array of learned behaviour includes discrimination learning (where a subject learns to respond to a limited range of sensory characteristics, such as a particular shade of coloration), habituation (the cessation of responses to repeated stimulation), concept formation (the process of sorting experiences according to related features), problem solving (thought), perceptual learning (the effects of past experience on sensory perceptions), and psychomotor learning (the development of neuromuscular patterns in response to sensory signals). association, conditioning, imitation, insight, and imprinting represent other types of learning.

      Learning theorists from the 17th through the mid-20th century attempted to develop a scientific proof of certain principles that governed all processes of learning. Rigorous, “objective” methodology was attempted so that the behaviour of all organisms could be comprehended under a unified system of laws modeled on those posited in the physical sciences. By the 1970s, however, flaws and gaps in these comprehensive theories led many psychologists to conclude that learning could not be represented by a single universal theory.

      The last attempts to integrate all knowledge of psychology into one grand theory occurred in the 1930s. These were represented in the works of Edwin R. Guthrie (Guthrie, Edwin Ray), Clark L. Hull (Hull, Clark L.), and Edward C. Tolman (Tolman, Edward C.). Guthrie reasoned that responses (not perceptions (perception) or mental states) were the central building blocks of learning. Hull argued that “habit strength,” a result of practiced stimulus-response (S-R) activities promoted by reward, was the essential aspect of learning, which he viewed as a gradual process. Tolman portrayed learning as a process that derives from behaviour. Many of these themes remain vital to contemporary research.

       association is one such theme. Its essence lies in the observation that a subject perceives something in the environment (sensations) and the result is an awareness of what is out there (ideas). Associations leading to ideas were said to include closeness of objects or events in space or time, similarity, frequency, salience, and attractiveness. associative learning, the ability of an animal to connect a previously irrelevant stimulus with a particular response, occurs mainly through the process of conditioning, in which reinforcement (learning theory) crystallizes new behaviour patterns. The earliest well-known conditioning experiment was performed by 19th-century Russian physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (Pavlov, Ivan Petrovich), who conditioned dogs to salivate to the sound of bells.

      S-R theories failed to account for many learned phenomena, however, and seemed overly reductive because they ignored a subject's inner activities. Tolman headed another, less “objective” camp that held that associations involved a stimulus and a subjective sensory impression (S-S).

      Another current theme is that of reinforcement, which accounts for the finding that a subject's performance will improve when his or her activities are rewarded. The theoretical mechanisms of such reinforcement are controversial.

      Many psychologists discount any universal applicability of association theory, saying that other considerations are of greater importance to learning. Gestalt (Gestalt psychology) psychologists, for instance, believe that the key learning processes involve a restructuring of relationships in the environment, not simply an associative experience with them. Psycholinguists (psycholinguistics) (those who study the psychological aspects of language ability) argue that language learning involves too many words and combinations to be satisfactorily explained by association theory. Instead, they argue that some basic organizing structure underlies language learning, perhaps an inherited native “grammar.”

      Other major issues of contemporary theories of learning include the role of motivation in performance; the transfer of training (training, transfer of) between a task already learned and one yet to be learned; learning stages; and the processes and nature of recall, forgetting, and information retrieval or memory. Other scientists are exploring nonquantifiable concepts such as image, cognition, awareness, and volition.

Physiological basis of learning
      The mechanisms of learning and remembering seem to depend on relatively enduring changes in the nervous system (nervous system, human). Apparently the effects of learning are first retained in the brain by some reversible process, after which a more permanent neural change takes place. Two types of neurological processes have therefore been suggested. The short-term function of memory, temporary and reversible, may be achieved through a physiological mechanism (e.g., synaptic electrical or chemical change) that keeps the memory trace alive over a limited period of time. The ensuing, more permanent (long-term) storage may depend on changes in the physical or chemical structure of neurons (neuron); synaptic changes seem to be particularly important. New studies using positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (diagnosis) (MRI) scans may illuminate the physiological basis of learning.

      Akin to the problem of learning are the relatively complex activities of reasoning, problem solving (thought), and intelligent and linguistic behaviour. See also attention; developmental psychology; intelligence (intelligence, human); motivation; and thought.

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Universalium. 2010.

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