definition of learning - image of open dictionary

A Definition of Learning

Given that Mission to Learn is a site focused entirely on lifelong learning, it seems only appropriate that I offer up a definition of learning as I see it.  So here’s how I define learning:

Learning is the lifelong process, both conscious and unconscious, of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes.

To that learning definition I would add:

  • Learning is different from education – and the difference matters.
  • Learning is not dependent upon classes and courses – though these can be very useful tools. It does benefit, though, from an overall context that is fertile for learning.
  • It does not require a degree, certificate, or grade to prove its worth – though clearly these have social value that most people would be unwise to ignore
  • It does require – in varying degrees, and in varying times and circumstances – activities like practice, reflection, interaction with the environment (in the broadest sense), and social interaction. Because learning is a process, not an event, these activities need to to occur repeatedly.
  • More than anything, learning requires availability.
  • Learning does not always – probably not even most of the time – happen consciously – though I think that those who strive for a more conscious, intentional approach to learning throughout their lives – whether at work or otherwise – tend to be more successful in pretty much whatever way they define success.

I think that pretty well sums up the definition of learning that drives my efforts here at Mission to Learn. What do you think? Does this jibe your definition of learning? What would you add or take away? Please comment below and share your thoughts on how to define learning.

Why does this learning definition matter?

We’re not really out to be academic or split hairs here on Mission to Learn, but we do believe that how you define learning really matters.


Mostly, it’s the “behaviors and attitudes” part. Traditionally, there’s just way too much emphasis on skills and knowledge – and that emphasis is even stronger these days with all the talk about “upskilling” and “reskilling.” As important as these are, it’s really your behaviors and attitudes that help you navigate the world – particularly a world that is changing rapidly.

And most of just don’t pay close enough attention to our behaviors and attitudes or why it might be beneficial to change them. To the extent we do, change often seems very hard. In fact, it often is very hard when it comes to sustaining it over the long term.

And really, that’s one of the key reasons Mission to Learn exists. We ought to be conscious of and in control of our learning in the broadest sense. That includes learning that is hard, learning that in olden times would have been categorized as “philosophical,” but that we just view as serious.

So, if you are – or aspire to be – a serious lifelong learner – welcome! And , I highly ncourage you to sign up for my newsletter to get curated resources to help you live fully, well, and wisely


P.S. – If you are interested in this definition of learning, then you may also be interested in:

65 thoughts on “A Definition of Learning”

  1. Pingback: What is the Learning Economy?

  2. i appreciate for different definitions of learning from you guys that helped me on my assignment

  3. I agree with the definition that “Learning is the lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes.”

    This is true because learning ONLY occurs after the transformation must have taken place. That goes to say that knowledge is not power. Rather, applied knowledge is power. Because the application is an evidence that something was learnt. Hence, continuous application results in mastery, then you can say you have a skill. With a little more effort, that deed/ skill can be done even while asleep- that transforms into a behavior. Continuity in that behavior, in turn, gives birth to a state of mind which invariably becomes an attitude.

    Suffice to say that knowledge gained could be positive or negative and the learning processes are similar.

  4. Pingback: Definition learnings | Migrainemanual

  5. Learning way of adding new thing to one’s life positively or negatively through some experiece.

  6. When I started to be home schooled , that was almost word for word the definition that my family had for learning. I agree that schools and classes are not the only way to learn. I think that a lot of life skills are not taught in school or by the students parents. I love to learn new things and hope that other people can find joy in it too.

  7. learning is a continuous process of acquiring skills, knowledge, values and attitude from the time of birth to death, ( from womb to tomb), and relating them to the environment positively and responsibly.

  8. Arul venkadesh

    Learning is a part of our life and its a behavior that inculcates our capabilities,skills,knowledge,attitude,and transforms our entire personality from one end to other….

  9. Learning refers either to a process which produces progressive series of changes in behaviour and experience or a result that is the sum total of all such changes.

  10. Ntamu Blessing

    Jeff, i tend to disagree with your position reflected in your post on the 19th of June 2010, that learning is the process and knowledge the outcome. I tend to believe that the application of knowlege which is reflected in behaviour (behaviour change) is the outcome of learning. I dare say learning is the process and the change in behaviour is the outcome.
    Might i use this medium to applaud your definition of learning? I find your definition unique, original and exhaustive.

  11. the way i viewed learning is relatively permanent change in behavior which occur as result of experience that is accumulated over a period of time. and it is important to note that learning never stop till the organism diet

  12. i m well satisfied with the other definitions of learning…thanks to oll…learning is the process o getting information from anywhere…u would learn anything anytym…i add thanksssss

  13. Learning is the essence of all educational process that ensure students acquisition of skills and attitudes that leads to a change in behaviour,which is the goal of education.

  14. Pingback: Entry Three: Social-Constructivism « Rebekahmircevska's Blog

  15. Learning is the necessity of life. The best thing about learning is that there is no age bar or time bar for learning. Today’s advance generation learning has become easy, comfortable and flexible through online education.

  16. Learning is search for truth. Truth of something or anything. But learning is simply “search for truth”. Learning can be and should be made a life long process. Learning can be achieved through a process. But learning cant not be itself “a process”.

  17. Dear Jeff,
    can you define and point out the differences and similarity between attitude and behavior. if you ask me, i think they are same .

  18. but my definition goes like learning is a relative permanent change in behavior duel to experience.

  19. sarafa lasisi

    It nice reading on your contribution,i must say learning is all the day to day life experience.thank you

  20. I agree with Jeff Cobb. I think his defintion of learning is brilliant. However I think it should be noted that this is a continual life long process, weather it is consciously or subconsciously. I feel the value of what is learnt is very subjective and can only be valued by the person who has aquired that knowledge.
    Jeff Cobb for President!!!

  21. Pingback: H800 – What is Learning? « Saucysailoress's Blog

  22. Learning is the process which make us mature and confident about most of the things.It is a endless process and it never stops. We can learn anything in anywhere.Learning is not a stastic,it is dynamic process.Through learning process we can updates our knowledge,skill,ability,etc.

  23. I have been studying philosophy and world religion on my own free time as I feel so connected to the ‘whys” and “whats” of life.

    since I have been reading so much on my own and slowly started to realize that I am learning at the same level as college graduates and scholars, understanding their writings, recognizing the topics and discussions made me question how different is my understanding of philosophy by self teaching than it would be at a 4 yr university?

    Im 35 a mother 0f 4 girls and a wife. I was diagnosed with Lupus and my world quickly changed. I started to read more in my sick and low days and it sparked a new awakening for me. I know that going back to college is not an option for me due to my health, my age (having 4 daughters who we hope would like to go to college, and saving money for their tuition and not mine) I would be interested in a credited education, but until then, knowledge is power. Everyone deserves an education. Passion for education I always says breeds more intelligence.

    I have been looking for books and lectures where I can have access to what is being taught in schools and resources that I wasn’t aware of yet.

    This is an amazing website and I am so excited that I have found you! I will be researching more and taking advantage of what you have to offer!

    You are offering a wonderful, “priceless” opportunity to many who have the desire but not the logistics of a formal education for whatever reason.

    For this,
    Thank You!

  24. Yes! learning is a endless process of our life because till the death of life we keep on learning so many things related to all aspects of life. for example, we learn language styles,expressions from our family members. In schools we have free social accesses to learn moral values, discipline. Thus, learning is a endless process of everyday life till from morning when we woke up in the morning to till going to sleep.

  25. Hello Jeff!
    I just wanted say I agree with your response to Anne on May 17, 2010. I understand and live in Anne’s situation. However, we must make a decision to learn, set goals, establish priorities and make a plan to accomplish those goals. Sitting down, performing a self analysis and making personal development decisions and plans can be a very intimidating process. A serious introspection requires us to see ourselves honestly and be willing to make the necessary positive changes that will aid us in attaining our goals. In this case the goal would be learning. Learning in a time constrained environment is challenging. However, you can do it!:) I am doing it!:)

  26. Pingback: Student Learning in Online Courses « Cathy Anderson

  27. hi
    almost every aspect is coverd in the definition.i would like to add that when we strive in direct or indirect way to apprach a point,the acquired stuff can be regarded as learning,whether usefull or useless.

  28. learning is not depend on the age of individual. it means that, a child can learns by old, an old people can learns by child/ A teacher can learn by the student and a student can learn by the teacher.

  29. learning is a life long process. learning starts from the day we were born and ends the day we die. there is no learning in the grave. thank you.

  30. The best thing about learning is that it never stops no matter how old you are or how intelligent you’ve become. It only does when you’ve stop paying attention.

  31. To corroborate your response to joyce,As long as we are alive learning continues as knowlege too is not static ,they go together.

  32. Joyce – Perhaps an oversimplification, but I view learning as the process by which knowledge is acquired and modified. Learning is the process; knowledge is the outcome. Though I wouldn’t want to imply that knowledge is static. Because learning is continuous, knowledge, too, is always in flux. I hope that helps some. – Jeff

  33. Mr. Jeff, can you share to me what’s the difference between learning and knowledge..it really confuses me..Thanks..

  34. Anne – Thanks for commenting. Definitely a very good and important question. To a certain extent, of course, we can’t help but keep learning: it’s simply how we are wired. Lately I’ve been more and more intrigued by the idea that we all tend to know a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. We just don’t take proper time to reflect upon, analyze, and synthesize what we have learned. Even so, I know that is probably small comfort when caught up in the frenzy of everyday managerial duties. I wrote a post a while back on ways to find more time for focused learning. You may want to have a look at that: https://www.missiontolearn.com/2009/08/find-extra-time/ – perhaps some of these could be carved out as best practices that fit your situation. In addition to making more time, I think it is very important to develop habits like good note-taking and also to take seriously the idea that physical well being – particularly through good diet, exercise, and sleep – habits play a very important role in learning effectively and efficiently. In the end, of course, there is no magic bullet: anyone who want to learn continuously and achieve goals has to commit to it consciously and set priorities. I think all of the themes I outlined in an earlier post on the “self help” industry apply: https://www.missiontolearn.com/2010/02/self-help-secrets/

    I hope these thoughts are of some help. I’d welcome any further ideas you or other readers have on the topic. It is one that will never go away!


  35. Dear Jeff,
    how do you think it is possible to keep learning and learning with the very limited time there is. Especially for people that are working in the management level?
    Do you have any best practise examples for companies that encourage there people to keep on learning (job related but also to develop personaly)?


  36. learning is all wonderful as much as people define learning in many ways the only thing that blesses is that it has no end till death do u part

  37. Anna – It depends on what you need. If you can provide more detail here in the comments, I can do my best to respond and also point others here to respond. – Jeff

  38. Has learning, in your opinion, nothing to do with the adaptation to new circumstances of both pleasurable shocking and painful experiences?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top