AskDefine | Define learn

Dictionary Definition



1 acquire or gain knowledge or skills; "She learned dancing from her sister"; "I learned Sanskrit"; "Children acquire language at an amazing rate" [syn: larn, acquire]
2 get to know or become aware of, usually accidentally; "I learned that she has two grown-up children"; "I see that you have been promoted" [syn: hear, get word, get wind, pick up, find out, get a line, discover, see]
3 commit to memory; learn by heart; "Have you memorized your lines for the play yet?" [syn: memorize, memorise, con]
4 be a student of a certain subject; "She is reading for the bar exam" [syn: study, read, take]
5 impart skills or knowledge to; "I taught them French"; "He instructed me in building a boat" [syn: teach, instruct]
6 find out, learn, or determine with certainty, usually by making an inquiry or other effort; "I want to see whether she speaks French"; "See whether it works"; "find out if he speaks Russian"; "Check whether the train leaves on time" [syn: determine, check, find out, see, ascertain, watch] [also: learnt]

User Contributed Dictionary





  • , /lɜː(r)n/, /l3:(r)n/
  • Rhymes with: -ɜː(r)n


  1. To acquire, or attempt to acquire knowledge or an ability to do something.
  2. To attend a course or other educational activity.
  3. To make use of a bad experience.
  4. To improve, maybe used in an order.
    Learn how to do it better!
  5. To be studying.
  6. To come to know; to become informed of; to find out.
    He just learned that he will be sacked.



Derived terms

Usage notes

In some regions there are people who do not distinguish between learn and teach. It is a fairly recent distinction. As recently as the 18th century it was acceptable to say The teacher learned the students their lessons. Then for no understood reason learn in the sense of teach discontinued in all but the south of the United States, where it is still in use today.


to acquire knowledge or ability
  • Danish: lære
  • Finnish: oppia, opetella
  • French: apprendre
  • German: lernen
  • Hebrew:
  • Hungarian: tanul
  • Italian: imparare, apprendere
  • Kurdish:
  • Lao: (hian)
  • Romanian: învăţa
  • West Frisian: leare
to attend educational activity
  • Danish: lære
  • Finnish: oppia, opiskella
  • German: lernen
  • Italian: imparare, apprendere
  • West Frisian: studearre
to make use of a bad experience
  • Finnish: oppia
  • Italian: imparare
  • Kurdish:
  • Romanian: învăţa
to improve
  • Finnish: oppia
to be studying
  • Danish: lære, studere
  • Finnish: opiskella, opetella
  • Italian: imparare, studiare
  • Kurdish: ,
  • Romanian: învăţa, studiu
  • West Frisian: studearre
to come to know; to become informed of; to find out
  • Danish: erfare
  • Finnish: saada tietää
  • German: erfahren
  • Italian: apprendere
  • Old English: geascian
  • Romanian: afla
  • West Frisian: leare


  • Family Word Finder Readers Digest Association Inc. NY 1975

Extensive Definition

Learning is one of most important mental function of humans, animals and artificial cognitive systems. It relies on the acquisition of different types of knowledge supported by perceived information. It leads to the development of new capacities, skills, values, understanding, and preferences. Its goal is the increasing of individual and group experience. Learning function can be performed by different brain learning processes, which depend on the mental capacities of learning subject, the type of knowledge which has to be acquitted, as well as on socio-cognitive and environmental circumstances.
Learning ranges from simple forms of learning such as habituation and classical conditioning seen in many animal species, to more complex activities such as play, seen only in relatively intelligent animals and humans. Therefore, in general, a learning can be conscious and not conscious.
For example, for small children, not conscious learning processes are as natural as breathing. In fact, there is evidence for behavioral learning prenatally, in which habituation has been observed as early as 32 weeks into gestation, indicating that the central nervous system is sufficiently developed and primed for learning and memory to occur very early on in development.
From the social perspective, learning is the goal of teaching and education.
Conscious learning is a capacity requested by students, therefore is usually goal-oriented and requires a motivation.
Learning has also been mathematically modeled using a differential equation related to an arbitrarily defined knowledge indicator with respect to time, and dependent on a number of interacting factors (constants and variables) such as initial knowledge, motivation, intelligence, knowledge anchorage or resistance, etc. Thus, learning does not occur if there is no change in the amount of knowledge even for a long time, and learning is negative if the amount of knowledge is decreasing in time. Inspection of the solution to the differential equation also shows the sigmoid and logarithmic decay learning curves, as well as the knowledge carrying capacity for a given learner.

Physiology of learning

"Thought," in a general sense, is commonly conceived as something arising from the stimulation of neurons in the brain. Current understanding of neurons and the central nervous system implies that the process of learning corresponds to changes in the relationship between certain neurons in the brain. Research is ongoing in this area.
It is generally recognized that memory is more easily retained when multiple parts of the brain are stimulated, such as through combinations of hearing, seeing, smelling, motor skills, touch sense, and logical thinking.
Repeating thoughts and actions is an essential part of learning. Thinking about a specific memory will make it easy to recall. This is the reason why reviews are such an integral part of education. On first performing a task, it is difficult as according to current theory synaptic modification is necessary for the task to be acquired. After several repetitions it is believed that structural changes occur in relevant synapses, thus rendering the task easier. When the task becomes so easy that you can perform it at any time, these structural changes have likely ceased.

Types of learning

Simple non-associative learning


In psychology, habituation is an example of non-associative learning in which there is a progressive diminution of behavioral response probability with repetition of a stimulus. It is another form of integration. An animal first responds to a stimulus, but if it is neither rewarding nor harmful the animal reduces subsequent responses. One example of this can be seen in small song birds - if a stuffed owl (or similar predator) is put into the cage, the birds initially react to it as though it were a real predator. Soon the birds react less, showing habituation. If another stuffed owl is introduced (or the same one removed and re-introduced), the birds react to it again as though it were a predator, demonstrating that it is only a very specific stimulus that is habituated to (namely, one particular unmoving owl in one place). Habituation has been shown in essentially every species of animal, including the large protozoan Stentor coeruleus.


Sensitization is an example of non-associative learning in which the progressive amplification of a response follows repeated administrations of a stimulus (Bell et al., 1995). An everyday example of this mechanism is the repeated tonic stimulation of peripheral nerves that will occur if a person rubs his arm continuously. After a while, this stimulation will create a warm sensation that will eventually turn painful. The pain is the result of the progressively amplified synaptic response of the peripheral nerves warning the person that the stimulation is harmful. Sensitization is thought to underlie both adaptive as well as maladaptive learning processes in the organism.

Associative learning

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of behavior. Operant conditioning is distinguished from Pavlovian conditioning in that operant conditioning deals with the modification of voluntary behavior. Discrimination learning is a major form of operant conditioning. One form of it is called Errorless learning.

Classical conditioning

The typical paradigm for classical conditioning involves repeatedly pairing an unconditioned stimulus (which unfailingly evokes a particular response) with another previously neutral stimulus (which does not normally evoke the response). Following conditioning, the response occurs both to the unconditioned stimulus and to the other, unrelated stimulus (now referred to as the "conditioned stimulus"). The response to the conditioned stimulus is termed a conditioned response.


Imprinting is the term used in psychology and ethology to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. It was first used to describe situations in which an animal or person learns the characteristics of some stimulus, which is therefore said to be "imprinted" onto the subject.

Observational learning

The most basic learning process is imitation; one's personal repetition of an observed process, such as a smile. Thus an imitation will take one's time (attention to the details), space (a location for learning), skills (or practice), and other resources (for example, a protected area). Through copying, most infants learn how to hunt (i.e., direct one's attention), feed and perform most basic tasks necessary for survival.


Play generally describes behavior which has no particular end in itself, but improves performance in similar situations in the future. This is seen in a wide variety of vertebrates besides humans, but is mostly limited to mammals and birds. Cats are known to play with a ball of string when young, which gives them experience with catching prey. Besides inanimate objects, animals may play with other members of their own species or other animals, such as orcas playing with seals they have caught. Play involves a significant cost to animals, such as increased vulnerability to predators and the risk or injury and possibly infection. It also consumes energy, so there must be significant benefits associated with play for it to have evolved. Play is generally seen in younger animals, suggesting a link with learning. However, it may also have other benefits not associated directly with learning, for example improving physical fitness.

Multimedia learning

The learning where learner uses multimedia learning environments (Mayer, 2001). This type of learning relies on dual-coding theory (Paivio, 1971).

e-Learning and m-Learning

Electronic learning or e-learning is a general term used to refer to Internet-based networked computer-enhanced learning. A specific and always more diffused e-learning is mobile learning (m-Learning), it uses different mobile telecommunication equipments, such as cellular phones.

Machine learning

Although learning is often thought of as a property associated with living things, computers are also able to modify their own behaviors as a result of experiences. Known as machine learning, this is a broad subfield of artificial intelligence concerned with the design and development of algorithms and techniques that allow computers to "learn". At a general level, there are two types of learning: inductive, and deductive. Inductive machine learning methods extract rules and patterns out of massive data sets.
The major focus of machine learning research is to extract information from data automatically, by computational and statistical methods. Hence, machine learning is closely related to data mining and statistics but also theoretical computer science.

Approaches to learning

Rote learning

Rote learning is a technique which avoids understanding the inner complexities and inferences of the subject that is being learned and instead focuses on memorizing the material so that it can be recalled by the learner exactly the way it was read or heard. The major practice involved in rote learning techniques is learning by repetition, based on the idea that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more it is repeated. Rote learning is used in diverse areas, from mathematics to music to religion. Although it has been criticized by some schools of thought, rote learning is a necessity in many situations.

Informal learning

Informal learning occurs through the experience of day-to-day situations (for example, one would learn to look ahead while walking because of the danger inherent in not paying attention to where one is going). It is learning from life, during a meal at table with parents, Play, exploring.

Formal learning

Formal learning is learning that takes place within a teacher-student relationship, such as in a school system.
Non-formal learning is organized learning outside the formal learning system. For example: learning by coming together with people with similar interests and exchanging viewpoints, in clubs or in (international) youth organizations, workshops.

Non-formal learning and combined approaches

The educational system may use a combination of formal, informal, and non-formal learning methods. The UN and EU recognize these different forms of learning (cf. links below). In some schools students can get points that count in the formal-learning systems if they get work done in informal-learning circuits. They may be given time to assist international youth workshops and training courses, on the condition they prepare, contribute, share and can proof this offered valuable new insights, helped to acquire new skills, a place to get experience in organizing, teaching, etc.
In order to learn a skill, such as solving a Rubik's cube quickly, several factors come into play at once:
  • Directions help one learn the patterns of solving a Rubik's cube
  • Practicing the moves repeatedly and for extended time helps with "muscle memory" and therefore speed
  • Thinking critically about moves helps find shortcuts, which in turn helps to speed up future attempts.
  • The Rubik's cube's six colors help anchor solving it within the head.
  • Occasionally revisiting the cube helps prevent negative learning or loss of skill


  • Paivio, A (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
  • Holt, John (1983). How Children Learn. UK: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140225706

External links

learn in Arabic: تعلم
learn in Catalan: Aprenentatge
learn in Czech: Učení
learn in Danish: Læring
learn in German: Lernen
learn in Estonian: Õppimine
learn in Spanish: Aprendizaje
learn in Esperanto: Lerno
learn in Persian: یادگیری
learn in French: Apprentissage
learn in Galician: Aprendizaxe
learn in Korean: 학습
learn in Croatian: Učenje
learn in Ido: Aprentiseso
learn in Indonesian: Belajar
learn in Icelandic: Nám
learn in Italian: Apprendimento
learn in Hebrew: למידה
learn in Lithuanian: Mokymasis
learn in Dutch: Leren
learn in Japanese: 学習
learn in Norwegian: Læring
learn in Polish: Uczenie się
learn in Portuguese: Aprendizagem
learn in Quechua: Yachaqay
learn in Russian: Обучение
learn in Simple English: Learning
learn in Serbian: Учење
learn in Serbo-Croatian: Učenje
learn in Finnish: Oppiminen
learn in Swedish: Studieteknik
learn in Thai: การเรียน
learn in Vietnamese: Học
learn in Ukrainian: Навчання
learn in Yiddish: לערנען
learn in Contenese: 學習
learn in Chinese: 学习

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

absorb, appreciate, apprehend, ascertain, assimilate, attend classes, attend school, awaken to, be informed, be with one, become acquainted with, become alive to, become aware of, become conscious of, broaden the mind, catch, catch on, chance upon, come to know, commit to memory, comprehend, conceive, cram the mind, determine, dig, digest, discover, fathom, find, find out, find out about, follow, gain knowledge, gather, get, get hep to, get hold of, get it, get next to, get the drift, get the idea, get the picture, get wise to, go into training, go to school, grasp, have, have it reported, have it taped, hear of, hit upon, ken, know, learn about, learn by heart, load the mind, master, memorize, pick up information, read, read with, realize, receive instruction, savvy, see the light, seize, seize the meaning, sense, serve an apprenticeship, take, take in, take lessons, train, twig, uncover, undergo schooling, understand
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