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What learning coaches should know about learning

What is learning anyway?
Before we can deal with learning and development pathways, it is necessary that you as learning coaches have some basic knowledge about learning and learning processes.

To start, we first need to clear up a common misunderstanding:

"Learning" is understood by many people as "absorbing and retaining knowledge".

This understanding of learning has mainly been shaped by our experiences from our school days.


But learning is of course much more than that!

Human beings have to learn practically everything they need to be able to live and act in their environment:

As humans, we can do very few things from birth. Most things - such as walking, talking, eating, preparing food, riding a bicycle, solving conflicts, finding our way in the community, calculating, reading, writing, operating a machine, using a mobile phone, organising our own lives etc. - must first be acquired during the course of our lives, in other words: learned.

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Human development and learning

Humans are helpless beings at birth who have to learn almost everything. This is in contrast to various animals which, thanks to their instincts, have many basic abilities at their disposal from the outset. Learning can therefore be seen very broadly as a process of self-development and self-development of the human being. 

Behind every change (not: their physical condition) is a conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional - learning process, with which the human being adapts to the demands and conditions of his environment and thereby shapes, forms and brings forth himself.

There are different levels of learning:

  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Abilities
  • competences
  • Attitudes, values
  • Self-image

So we have to learn not only how to recognise and understand the world intellectually, but also how we can and should behave in it, how we can cope with its challenges.
And we also have to learn how to deal with ourselves, with our feelings and sensations, or what goals we set for ourselves. Of course, it is also a learning process when we form or discard characteristics and habits, when we change our behaviour or our convictions, and so on.

So how does one learn all this? How does learning take place?

Learning is a spontaneous, primary process that at least a healthy person does not have to learn first, but brings along as a self-evident, initially quite unconscious force.
If you observe small children, you can easily convince yourself of this.

They learn constantly and with fun! 
Children learn spontaneously, freely, joyfully, intensively, with all their senses and without reward.

Nevertheless, we experience that among young people and adults this enthusiasm for learning has diminished very much or is even denied, avoided, repelled.

Here the question arises: "What has happened that this original force of life has dried up, and what obstacles and blockages must be removed so that this force can unfold again?
The decisive and fruitful question is: "What actually prevents people from learning?"

How does learning work?

Learning through action

Many educational and training institutions are characterised by a cognitive (= related to knowledge) and rationalistic understanding of learning. According to this understanding, the act of learning consists primarily of absorbing and retaining knowledge, consisting of information and theoretical (mental) contexts or interpretations. According to this understanding, learning is an act of consciousness formation and expansion.
In today's vocational education and training, however, it is becoming increasingly important not only to know but also to be able to act.

Learned knowledge by no means always and naturally leads to corresponding action!

In order to act in a new or changed way, it is not enough to simply absorb and practise new knowledge and thinking. Learning to do something practically - to ride a bicycle, to advise in a customer-oriented way, to solve social conflicts, etc. - is simply not only a matter of "thinking".

It is astonishing that learning by doing, i.e. being able to do something, exists without knowledge having been learned first. Let's look at the example of riding a bicycle. In general, people who are good at riding a bicycle did not learn this by being taught a theory of cycling.
Such actions are obviously learned in other ways than through consciousness and the assimilation of theoretical knowledge. This does not at all mean that the latter is superfluous.
Probably the majority of those who know how to ride a bicycle learned it by simply getting on the bike and trying it out without any preconceptions. This usually didn't work right away, a few falls and scraped knees were unavoidable, but eventually we were able to do it.

Perhaps the supporting hand of an adult was helpful, who could prevent many a fall before we had developed the right feeling for balance - but we had to learn ourselves, without theory, just by doing.

The Pedagogical Paradox

The fundamental law of practical learning, i.e. learning by doing:

"One learns actions by doing what one first wants to learn. You teach actions by putting learners into situations that they are supposed to learn to master."

Learning process of experience

 The learning process can be described as follows: 

 The learning process can be described as follows: 

  • First, a situation (action) occurs that cannot be solved spontaneously with previous experience. (feeling of surprise, dissatisfaction and doubt).
  • This is followed by a thinking phase in which a solution is to be developed through rethinking, re-sorting, etc. All consequences are thought through. All consequences are thought through.
  • Trying out something new: "Frame experiment".
  • The "experiment" is closely observed and evaluated. Is the desired result achieved?
  • In case of failure, further "learning loops" are turned (thinking through, developing solutions) until the desired result is achieved. 
  • In the case of success, new action skills have been formed through this process of "reflecting on the action".
  • The learning process and the ability should be made conscious afterwards. (reflection-on-action)

(D. Schön und D. Kolb)

The research of D. Schön, among others, has provided fundamental insights into the paradoxical phenomenon of learning:

  • A learning situation presupposes an unbiased approach to the situation.

  • It begins with the fact that resistance, surprises occur something does not go the way one thought it would.

  • Learning requires an inner confrontation with the situation, i.e. it demands activity, not being satisfied with what is happening and not simply accepting that something does not work out.

  • Learning is always an experimental process, a trial and error.

  • Learning is connected with accompanying self-reflection, self-criticism and self-examination and has something to do with a basic attitude of research.

  • Learning is not possible without repeated failure, without mistakes and aberrations.

  • Learning requires staying on the ball, not being deterred, persevering and trying until it works.

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»You can't teach a person, you can only help them to discover it within themselves.«

Galileo Galilei
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