A cognitive and/or physical process in which a person assimilates information and temporarily or permanently acquires or improves skills, knowledge, behaviors, and/or attitudes. (Source: WP5 - glossary)

There are various conceptions of learning. Above is mostly in line with the acquisition metaphor of learning. From the point of view of the participation metaphor of learning learning can be characterized as a social process where people change or establish their ways of doing things or their practices by participating to social interaction in some particular situation and cultural settings.

According to the knowledge creation metaphor of learning learning is a collaborative process where the way how something new (new knowledge, artefacts, practices, ways of acting) is produced or created on the basis of existing knowledge and practices, and on the basis of innovative processes and practices of people involved, is realized. According to this view learning can be very near to innovative processes per se. See also trialogical learning.

These various approaches to learning do not necessarily exclude each other but rather give different perspectives on learning by emphasizing different aspects of human activity called learning (so there is, at least, much overlap in these definitions).

See also collaborative learning

Back to the Trialogical Glossary

From my point of view the definition of learning given here is two narrow in several respects:

1. The definition focuses on the acquisition/assimilation of information and thereby neglects productive aspects of learning. E.g. from my perspective the development of a new algorithm is also a learning process even though the assimilation of informartion plays only a minor role here.

2. Learning is defined here only with regard to persons not with regard to collectives or organizations. That collective learing is more than the sum of individual learning processes can be illustrated by the case of a soccer-team where the performance of the entire team cannot be broken down to the individual contributions of eleven players. Otherwise team-training would be unnecessary.

3. According to this definition learning has an impact on the learner in the first place, while the environment stays more or less unchanged. This perspective seems to be limited as learning inevitably alters not just the individual but also the context. The young child that learns to walk might provide a simple example in this case. While of course the ability to walk can be seen as a learning process for the individual it has a direct impact on the enviroment, as from now on parents have to develop other/new skills in order to monitor the childs actions and to 'rescue' the child from previously irrelevant dangers, e.g..

--Christoph Richter, 19-Jul-2006

As you can see above I agree very much with Christoph and I have changed the definition above so that the first definition is only one way of understanding learning.I think this is very much in line with traditional, and “cognitivist” conceptions of learning. This is often challenged by new theories of learning (see e.g. Sfard 1998; Engeström 1987, 2001; Elkjaer 2003). There are so many conceptions and theories of learning that it is hard to do justice to all of them. In the KP-Lab we have used the distinction between various metaphors of learning. Then I would say that the first definition is very near to the acquisition metaphor of learning, and I have tried to add definitions which would be in line also with the participation metaphor and the knowledge-creation metaphor of learning. I am not sure, however, if they are good as such but I hope other people will modify them.


Elkjaer, B. (2003). Organizational learning with a pragmatic slant. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 22, 481-494.

Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.

Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: Toward activity-theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14, 133–156.

Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4–13.

--Sami Paavola, 11-Aug-2006

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