Chapter 2. The Learning Process

Learning Is Multifaceted

If instructors see their objective as being only to train their studentsí memory and muscles, they are underestimating the potential of the teaching situation. Students learn much more than expected if they fully exercise their minds and feelings. The fact that these items were not included in the instructorís plan does not prevent them from influencing the learning situation.

Psychologists sometimes classify learning by types, such as verbal, conceptual, perceptual, motor, problem-solving, and emotional. Other classifications refer to intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, and attitudinal changes, along with descriptive terms like surface or deep learning. However useful these divisions may be, they are somewhat artificial. For example, a class learning to apply the scientific method of problem-solving may learn the method by trying to solve real problems. But in doing so, the class also engages in verbal learning and sensory perception at the same time. Each student approaches the task with preconceived ideas and feelings, and for many students, these ideas change as a result of experience. Therefore, the learning process may include verbal elements, conceptual elements, perceptual elements, emotional elements, and problem-solving elements all taking place at once. This aspect of learning will become more evident later in this handbook when lesson planning is discussed.

Learning is multifaceted in still another way. While learning the subject at hand, students may be learning other things as well. They may be developing attitudes about aviationógood or badódepending on what they experience. Under a skillful instructor, they may learn self-reliance. The list is seemingly endless. This type of learning is sometimes referred to as incidental, but it may have a great impact on the total development of the student.

Learning Is an Active Process

Students do not soak up knowledge like a sponge absorbs water. The instructor cannot assume that students remember something just because they were in the classroom, shop, or aircraft when the instructor presented the material. Neither can the instructor assume the students can apply what they know because they can quote the correct answer verbatim. For students to learn, they need to react and respond, perhaps outwardly, perhaps only inwardly, emotionally, or intellectually.

Learning Styles

Learning styles are simply different approaches or ways of learning based on the fact that people absorb and process information in different ways. Learning style is an individualís preference for understanding experiences and changing them into knowledge. It denotes the typical strategy a learner adopts in a learning situation. For example, information may be learned in a variety of ways: by seeing or hearing, by reflecting or acting, analyzing or visualizing, or it may be learned piecemeal or steadily. Just as people learn differently, they also have different teaching methods. Some instructors rely on lectures, others demonstrate, and others may prefer computer simulation training. Everyone has a mixture of strengths and preferences, not a single style or preference to the complete exclusion of any other. Please bear this in mind when using these ideas.

As mentioned in chapter 1 and the discussion of personality types and learning, underpinning the idea of learning style is the theory that everyone has an individual style of learning. According to this approach to learning, if the student and instructor work with that style, rather than against it, both benefit. Currently, 71 different theories of learning styles have been identified. These theories run from simple to complex, usually reflecting scientific research about how the brain processes information. While the scientific community may be surprised at how the research has been used, many educators and school systems have become advocates of applying learning style to teaching methods.

Another model for learning, the Approaches to Learning model, bases its theory on the studentís learning intentions. For example, is the student interested in short-term memorization of the material or long-term knowledge? Does the student want a passing grade on a pop quiz or the ability to use the material learned to repair an engine? One feature of the Approaches to Learning is that the learnerís approach to learning depends on his or her reasons for learning. This theory reflects the chapter 1 discussion of adult learners who come to aviation training with definite reasons for learning.

While controversy exists over the scientific value of learning styles as well as approaches to learning, many educational psychologists advocate their use in the learning process. Knowledge of learning styles and approaches can help an instructor make adjustments in how material is presented if his or her learning/teaching style differs from the way a student learns. Since a studentís information processing technique, personality, social interaction tendencies, and the instructional methods used are all significant factors, training programs should be sensitive to different learning styles.

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