Learning is thus a circular process; however, it can be considered as an uprising spiral motion, where with time, there is a change in the level of attainment. It is this sequence which can be referred to as learning spiral and makes learning a dynamic process.
When and where one gets the new experiences and how often are these repeated, is referred to as learning opportunities. A new experience, a new piece of information may be first heard and seen during a lecture and may be accepted and analysed as something relevant and important. On reflection, it may seem to be significant for some purpose. On recall it may be spoken aloud or written/drawn on a paper, analysed to be incompletely recalled, may be revised from a book or notes, in the self study room or a library or may be discussed with a friend and ultimately may become a pat of the permanent memory. This is how learning occurs. Learning is to progress from one step to another.
Learning is individual: We all learn, different things at different rates and hypothetically anybody can learn anything given sufficient time and energy. However, at a practical, hard ground level our learning is limited. We all learn different matters attaining different levels of achievement.
The scope and magnitude of learning depends to a large extent on the personality types of the individuals e.g. those who prefer sensing would learn better about those things which they can see, hear, touch and experience by five senses, whereas those who prefer intuition would like subjects that allow to create theories. Ideas and hypotheses would fascinate them. Now let us consider some basic principles of learning.
Learning is better with subject matters of immediate relevance. When the relevance is remote or obscure and the student has to learn with a belief that the knowledge perhaps might be of use some day, the learning is difficult. However, a student can be motivated to learn effectively by explaining the importance of subject matter with reference to his ultimate goal e.g. the future clinical practice in the community. This could mean that some of the basic principles are relevant and important to be learnt now and some finer details may be learnt later in actual practice.
We learn by adding to what we already know. We learn by progressing from simple matters to complex and more complex matters. A suitable example or interesting anecdote may attract learner’s attention and through it some facts and principles can be communicated.
Learning is better, when it progresses from observation to reasoning, from a particular point to a generalisation, from a particular experience to an abstract concept. However, sequence is a matter of commonsense and it is not essential to adhere to any rigid rational order or logical sequence while teaching a subject matter. Depending on the topic to be explained or taught and depending on the learning atmosphere and opportunity, the learning sequence can be altered and adjusted accordingly.
Learning is more effective with an active involvement of the learner in the process, e.g. small group discussion is more effective than the lecture method.
Learning being a process of acquiring new knowledge and skills which enable the students to do something that they could not do before, providing opportunities for formative evaluation and feedback on their performance, helps the students to learn better. (You will learn more about it in chapter 7).
The system and process of evaluation has a definite effect on learning and learners. Students are generally blamed to be examination oriented. However, the very fact that students learn for the sake of examinations can be utilised for better learning. For example, if more question are asked regarding the health problems faced by the community, automatically students would work more for those topics and would learn more about the same.
The degradation of social and cultural values is affecting education also. Medical education is no exception. An observation that non deserving candidates may score better does affect the learning behavior in a negative manner. To maintain a positive atmosphere in the educational institutions is a joint responsibility of all those who can afford to preserve and practice high moral principles on the basis of their spiritual strength.
Having considered different aspects of learning, let us now consider teaching.