The Nature and Context of Learning

Understanding our cognitive and metacognitive learning processes is a key to promoting human happiness and well-being. Information and experience are the material we use to construct and generate meaning. One process of learning results from interactions with the environment using our five physical senses to take in knowledge. The outward physical senses receive sensory energy, which is communicated to the brain to be processed.

The internal mental senses or properties that operate through the mind such as imagination, which imagines things transmitted through the senses; thought which thinks about or conceives what is imagined or perceived; comprehension which comprehends what is thought by connecting and constructing understanding; and memory, which remembers what the physical and mental senses have experienced (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 1987, pp. 210-211).

Learning processes are varied; some simple and others more complex; some unconscious or subconscious while others are conscious. The process of learning and the development of potential increases to the degree we are intentional using our thinking, feeling and willing faculties to be active, goal directed, self regulating, assume personal responsibility and identify and exploit learning opportunities. If we can intentionally use information and experience to develop our capacities and our varied intelligences in good ways, learning and development improves.

Learning occurs in a context; it results from some interaction with the environment. These interactions test our capacity. We can categorize the environments with which we interact into the self, others, objects and unknowns. The first and primary interaction each person has is the self with the self, then with other human beings and objects, concrete or abstract, and lastly unknowns, mysteries and entities we do not comprehend,. Most interactions are a combination or collection of the above entities with one or more being dominant. Individuals by interacting in these environments can create movement toward the development of potential in themselves and others.

Teacher to student and student to classroom interactions are potent sources for learning. The teacher plays an important role in creating a good learning environment. Creating contexts to actualize capacities in good ways is the goal of teachers. Teachers have a responsibility to create classrooms characterized by truth, love and justice to facilitate the knowing, loving and willing capacities of their students. The educators’ use of these qualities and their own capacities, affect the classroom environment and learning. When the educators’ capacities are properly developed and developing, they can create the energy or force needed to start the students’ learning. Classrooms and teachers characterized by love, fair-mindedness and honesty will engender these qualities in the students.

Some students are so stuck in their limited and low views of themselves that only a great force can get them to move. In these cases, extra caring, acceptance, love and service may help. Sometimes teachers need to be forceful in their love, truth and justice in order to have effect. By having more authentic, face-to-face, relationships with learners, teachers have more chance of influencing them. If we have not actualized our capacities, then we are not in a position to help others do so. This process is synergetic or symbiotic: the more your students grow, the more energy is created, which causes the teachers to grow more as well. The students create a motive force to move the teacher.

We are situated in contexts and affected by them. If students are turned away from learning or going in a different direction, they can limit or disturb the learning of others. Use of technologies and instructional processes can coordinate, focus and extend the learning. Our capacities are essential in the context of learning and in many ways determine the inner context of the learner. As we turn towards truth, love and justice, we prosper, as we turn away from any of these positive forces, our development and happiness will be hindered.

Education can be divided into three kinds—material, intellectual and spiritual relating to the body, mind and soul. Material education is the education of the physical body, intellectual education relates to civilization and intellectual development and spiritual education is the acquiring of virtues. These three types of education all depend on truth, love and justice. Each must be developed. Education should cover all three aspects: the physical, intellectual and spiritual. Each level is progressively more difficult to measure, but standards and assessments can be made for each. Health and nutrition are the primary sources for developing the body; family, schools, and society the mind; and religion and spiritual practice the soul.

Material education is to nurture and strengthen the body and develop bodily soundness and health through such things as proper care of the body, outdoor activities, play and athletics. Intellectual education relates to those activities that distinguish humans from animals, that contribute to the advance of civilization and that are of use and benefit to the world, such as useful arts, crafts, trades and sciences. Spiritual education is more important in that it inspires, guides and regulates all other education in healthy ways. This involves moral education and the acquiring of spirituality, morals and virtues.


About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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