Much has been said and written about the importance of learning. But what does it really mean?
At its most basic, it means being open to new experiences and ideas, and allowing ourselves to grow from what we encounter in the world.
Children are like little sponges. They learn from everything that they encounter, whether mud, toys, books or people. Everything is an opportunity for experimentation and therefore for learning.
As adults, it can be hard to remember and recapture that excitement about the world but that is what is needed for successful learning.
This page explains more about the skills you need for effective learning.
What is Learning?
Many people think of learning as studying, but this is not the case. When you study, you do normally learn but learning can go far beyond structured or unstructured studying.
You can learn from any and all experiences in your life.
We recognise this by using phrases such as:
- “I’ve learned so much from having children.”
- “You wouldn’t believe how much I learned about myself from that.”
There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education.
The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.
- Jiddu Krishnamurti, Philosophical and Spiritual Writer and Speaker.
Our page on What is Learning? also explains one theory about how we learn, the Procure – Apply – Consider – Transform (PACT) model of learning.
Another useful model, which you can find on our page What is Coaching? is the competence cycle of learning.
If you want to know more about the theory of learning, have a look at our page on Learning Approaches. This sets out the three basic approaches:
- Behaviourist, which expects learners to respond to some kind of stimulus;
- Cognitive, which is concerned with knowledge and knowledge-retention; and
- Humanist, which is concerned with explaining individual experience.
Learning about your Learning
Based on these three approaches, behaviourist, cognitive and humanist, researchers have proposed that we all have different Learning Styles, and put forward two very useful models.
But why are they useful? They are useful because knowing how you like to learn can help you to tailor your experiences so that you learn more quickly and effectively.
Our page on Reflective Practice will help you to think about your experiences and understand more about yourself. Developing a habit of reflective practice will also help you to learn in the future.
Getting Ready to Learn
What else do you need in order to learn?
Research suggests that perhaps the most important skill you need to learn effectively is what is called a ‘growth mindset’: the belief that you can learn and develop new skills.
For more about the importance of growth mindset, see our page on Mindsets.
You also need to be prepared to work hard, which requires self-motivation.
There are a number of other skills that you will find useful to help your learn effectively:
With the right mindset, you will set yourself up for learning for life.
While learning is very definitely wider than studying, nonetheless, having good study skills will help you to learn.
These generic and transferable skills help you to get yourself into the right frame of mind for studying, and then study effectively.
Our study skills pages include:
- Getting Organised to Study, including finding the best times of day for you, and also making contact with people who can help and support you;
- Finding Time to Study, which includes setting a study timetable, setting goals and prioritising;
- Sources of Information for Study, which explains the difference between primary, secondary and tertiary sources, and how you can find and evaluate the quality of sources;
- Styles of Writing, which explains about different types of documents that you may need to produce;
- Reading skills, including Effective Reading and Reading Strategies, which show you how you can develop good habits of reading, enabling you to critique your sources effectively; and
- Revision Skills, which help you to review and revise your studying to prepare for examinations and assessments.
How to Write…
If you are engaged in formal study, for example, undertaking a school, college or university course, you are likely to find that you have to produce written assignments.
You may find it helpful to look at our pages on planning an essay, writing essays, writing reports, and writing a dissertation or research project. Our pages on dissertations, thesis and research projects are broken down by section. You will find information about literature reviews, methods, results, discussion and conclusions and recommendations.
You will also find information about Research Methods on SkillsYouNeed, including Designing your Research, and various methods of gathering and analysing data, such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
Helping Other People to Learn
There are very particular skills required to help other people to learn. Your role in helping others to learn may be formal or informal.
Teachers have a very clear role in supporting learning; see our page on Teaching Skills for more. Many people also use coaches both informally and formally to support their learning: see our pages on Coaching Skills and What is Coaching? for more.
Parents often find themselves needing to draw on all their skills to support their children’s learning. A good starting place for ideas is our page on Coaching at Home.
Another role in which you may be supporting someone’s learning is as a mentor. If you’re new to a mentoring role, have a look at our pages What is Mentoring? and Mentoring Skills. And if you’re just entering a mentoring relationship as the learner, visit our page Learning from Mentoring for some ideas.
Counselling is also about supporting learning, in its broadest sense.
A Lifelong Skill
Children are naturally eager to learn, even if not to study. But as adults, it can be all too easy to forget that learning remains important.
Those who want to learn are open to new experiences, actively seeking out ways to learn and develop. They retain a keen interest in the world, and always want to know how to improve.
Learning is a lifelong approach and attitude, and it will serve you well if you cultivate it.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Develop the skills you need to make the most of your time as a student.
Our eBooks are ideal for students at all stages of education, school, college and university. They are full of easy-to-follow practical information that will help you to learn more effectively and get better grades.