The answer in my own broad based opinion based on what I have read, is that the term, “Learning” is a cognitive process of acquiring new concepts and skills, in order to complete a task which in-turn increase’s knowledge and understanding of the subject area to be learnt. In addition, individuals will be able to build on past experiences to identify how a situation could be improved, and then with this knowledge make actual improvements. Furthermore, learning is influenced from the environment in which we find ourselves, which reflects greatly in our behaviour. Moreover, it is continuum throughout the human life-span.
In comparison the term, “Development” refers to the biological process by which a human organism grows and functions through its life-span. Development can be monitored by physical growth, and a marked change in performance which is usually associated with progression of increasing knowledge and skills. Development happens gradually over a period of time, allowing achievements to be built upon and improved, which is similar to the learning process. Development seems to be sequential with age, and I believe what happens in the early stages of development can have a significant affect in the later stages of development.
Furthermore, development can be influenced by our own personal experiences within the environment. It is important to understand that there is a clear difference between learning and development. Learning occurs within specific situations and development is linked to functionality and physical growth, however, they are closely related, but have separate meanings. Educational pioneer, Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) urged early year’s educators to respect the sanctity of children learning and developing new skills through this statement:
“We grant space and time to young plants and animals because we know that, in accordance with the laws that live in them, they will develop properly and grow well. Young animals and plants are given rest and arbitrary interference with their growth is avoided, because it is known that the opposite practice would disturb their pure unfolding and sound development; but the young human being is looked upon as a piece of wax or a lump of clay which man can mould into what he pleases,” (www. Geocities. com).
The origins of learning theory are in an area of philosophy called “Epistemology,” a field concerned with how we acquire knowledge. Two philosophical traditions emerged from the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. These traditions are nativism, (Plato) and empiricism, (Aristotle). In the early seventeenth century before the beginnings of modern Psychology, there was a philosophical debate between the empiricists and the nativists, known more commonly today as the nature-nurture debate.
The nature-nurture debate is another example of determinism. The debate is concerned with what causes something to develop. On one side, nativists see development as arising from innate factors – from inherited characteristics. On the other side, empiricists see development occurring because of experience and learning. British philosopher John Locke, (1632-1704) the founder of empiricism, advanced the hypothesis that children learn primarily from external forces, he implied: “Without nurture, we are nothing” (Haralambos & Rice 2002, p. 761).
Empiricists believed that the human infant is born with no skills or knowledge; they refer to the infant as a, “Tabula rasa,” or “Blank slate. ” The rationale behind this idea is that the knowledge and skills will be, “Written on” the child by the knowledgeable hand of experience, and influenced by environmental factors. Furthermore, the infant will learn through instruction from others, in addition too their own direct experiences, which in-turn will determine their achievements.
Nativists (such as Jean- Jacques Rousseau 1712- 1778) in contrast, argue that we are born with innate intelligence, in addition to genetic inheritance which determines intellectual achievement and, to some extent, personality. William Mcdougal, (Nativist- 1908) states: “The human mind has certain innate or inherited tendencies which are the essential springs or motive powers of all thought and action, whether individual or collective, and are the bases from which the character and will of individuals and of nations are gradually developed,” (Haralambos & Rice 2002, p.761).
A modern form of the, (Nurture debate) relating to learning theory was proposed by B. F Skinner (1904-1990) in the form of behaviourism. The Behaviourists believed that human behaviour is learned. Behaviourism is primarily concerned with observable and measurable aspects of human behaviour, in relation to what we can see, how people react, in addition to how people behave. Behaviour theorists define learning as nothing more than an acquisition of new behaviour.
Skinner’s theory is based on the idea that learning occurs through a process of reinforcement. He believes changes in behaviour are the result of an individual’s response to events, (stimuli) that occur in the environment. A response produces a consequence, for e. g. when children utter sounds and words which are to become their native language, and are greeted with a positive response. This positive response is the reinforcement which encourages the child to repeat the sound of the word, which in turn reinforces learning.
Furthermore, behaviourists support the, Transmission Model of learning (Nurture) as the model uses the hand of experience, the knowledgeable adult to nurture the child through the learning process, enabling them to control what learning takes place. The Social Learning theory developed from behaviorism. Albert Bandura emphasizes the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. Bandura, (1977) states: “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. “