What is Learning? Characteristics, Process, Nature, Types of learners

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What is Learning?

Learning can be defined as a relatively permanent change in behaviour or potential behaviour as a result of direct or indirect experience. Learning is thus a change in behaviour as a result of experience.

What is Learning

Learning Definition

Learning is any relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a result of experience.

Stephen P. Robbins

Learning is the process of having one’s behaviour modified, more or less permanently, by what he does and the consequences of his action, or by what he observes.

Munn N.L.

Learning can be defined as relatively permanent change in behaviour potentially that results from reinforced practice or experience.

Steers and Porter

Meaning of Learning

There are two primary elements in meaning of learning:

  1. Change must be relatively permanent: This means that after “learning” our behavior must be different, either better or worse as compared to our behaviour prior to this learning experience.

    For example, you “learn” to drive a car or have learned how to use a computer.

  2. This change must occur due to some kind of experience or practice. This learning is not caused by biological maturation.

    For example, a child does not learn to walk, it is a natural biological phenomenon. We do not learn to eat or drink.

Nature of Learning

Learning is a relatively permanent change in knowledge or behavior that results from practice or experience. There are several key points in this definition.

  1. Learning comes change
  2. Change in knowledge or behavior has to be relatively permanent or long-lasting
  3. Learning takes place as a result of practice or through experience
Nature of Learning
Nature of Learning

Learning comes change

For example, when you learn a second language, your knowledge about how to communicate evolves, and your behavior changes when communicating with native speakers of the language.

Change in knowledge or behavior has to be relatively permanent or long-lasting

For example, If you attempt to communicate with someone in another language by looking up words in a dictionary that you quickly forget once the interaction is complete, learning did not take place because there was no permanent change in your knowledge of the second language.

Learning takes place as a result of practice or through experience

For example, Learning a second language requires much practice in pronunciation, word usage, and grammar.

Read: Motivation Definition | Types of Motivation | Importance of Motivation

Elements of Learning

Elements of learning are:

  1. Motivation
  2. Cues
  3. Response
  4. Reinforcement
Elements of Learning
Elements of Learning


Motivation is based on need and goals. Motivation acts as a spur to learning, with needs and goals serving as stimuli. Uncovering consumer motives is one of the prime task of marketers. Marketers educate motivated consumer segments why their product will best fulfill their needs.

Marketers use motivation research to unearth consumer motives and use it in developing marketing program.


Cues are the stimuli that give direction to those motives. In the market, marketing mix (place, price, packaging, styling, advertising and displays) serve as cues to help consumers fulfill their needs in product specific ways.

Cues serve to direct consumer drives when they are consistent with consumer expectations. Marketers must be careful to provide cues that do not upset those expectations.

For example, consumer expects high fashion stores to carry designer clothing at high prices thus; a high fashion designer should distribute his or her clothing only through exclusive stores and advertise only in quality fashion magazines..


How an individual reacts to a drive or cue constitutes his or her response. Learning can occur even if responses are not overt. The carpet manufacturer who provides consistent cues to a consumer may not always succeed in stimulating a purchase, even if that individual is motivated to buy.

Instead, the manufacturer may succeed only in forming a favorable image of the carpet in the consumer’s mind i.e. evoking a tendency to respond by buying.


Reinforcement increases the likelihood that a specific response will occur in the future as the result of particular cues or stimuli. Many marketers instinctively find that reinforcement serves to teach their customers a desired behavior. For example, telephone companies that give cash discounts to customers who pay their bill promptly are acting to ensure prompt payment in the future.

Types of Learners

There are following types of learners:

  1. Visual Learners
  2. Auditory Learners
  3. Kinesthetic Learners
Types of Learners
Types of Learners

Visual Learners

  • Visual learners learn primarily through the written word.
  • They tend to be readers who diligently take down every word.

Auditory Learners

  • Auditory learners learn primarily through listening.
  • They focus their ears and attention on your words, listening carefully to everything you say.
  • They like to talk rather than write and relish the opportunity to discuss what they’ve heard.

Kinesthetic Learners

  • Kinesthetic learners learn better by doing
  • This group learns best when they can practice what they’re learning
  • They want to have their hands on the keyboard, the hammer, or the test tube because they think in terms of physical action.

Read: Perception Definition | Importance of Perception | Perception Bias

Characteristics of Learning

Characteristics of learning are:

  1. Learning is Purposeful
  2. Learning is a Result of Experience
  3. Learning is Multifaceted
  4. Learning is an Active Process
Characteristics of Learning
Characteristics of Learning

Learning is Purposeful

Each student sees a learning situation from a different viewpoint. Each student is a unique individual whose past experiences affect readiness to learn and understanding of the requirements involved.

Learning is a Result of Experience

Since learning is an individual process, the instructor cannot do it for the student. The student can learn only from personal experiences; therefore, learning and knowledge cannot exist apart from a person.

Learning is Multifaceted

Learning is multifaceted in still another way. While learning the subject at hand, students may be learning other things as well. They may be developing attitudes about aviation-good or bad-depending on what they experience.

Learning is an Active Process

Students do not soak up knowledge like a sponge absorbs water. The instructor cannot assume that students remember something just because they were in the classroom, shop, or airplane when the instructor presented the material.

Learning Process

The learning process has the following steps:

  1. Stimuli
  2. Attention
  3. Recognition
  4. Translation
  5. Reinforcement
  6. Behavior
  7. Reward
  8. Habits
  9. Motives
  10. Efforts
Learning Process
Learning Process


Stimuli are any objects and language which draw the attention of people. Employees get stimuli from the actions of their superiors. Superiors tell and advice employees who pay attention to these stimuli. All the stimuli may not be fully attended to.


The degree of attention depends upon the nature of stimuli. All stimuli are not paid attention to. Technical and interesting stimuli are highly attended. Career-oriented stimuli are generally accepted by employees. The personality levels of employees influence their desires to learn, motives for need fulfilment and tension reduction.


Attention-paid stimuli are recognised as acceptable factors of improvement and new life styles. Employees paying attention to stimuli are recognising the stimuli for learning purposes. The levels of recognition depend upon the levels of values, preferences, needs and desires of the employees.


The translation and evaluation process is a crucial point for implementing the stimuli in behaviour through reinforcement. Employees behave properly through attitude changes, objectivity, mental and physical development. It is observed in better performances.


Reinforced perception is learning. The perception process includes stimuli, attention, recognition, translation and behaviour. Perception leads to learning, but perception itself is not learning unless it is reinforced.

Repeated action is reinforcement. Reinforcement may be positive, negative, punishment and extinction. Learners learn as per their perception levels. Generally positive reinforcement is more effective for making permanent changes in behaviour.


Learning changes behaviour through reinforcement of perceived knowledge. It makes permanent changes in behaviour. A temporary change in behaviour is not learning. Positive behaviour gives rewards to employees.


Employees expect rewards for learning. If the translated behaviour provides a reward, it is accepted, otherwise it is not accepted. Employees develop their behaviour into habits. Rewards may be monetary or non-monetary.


A permanent change in behaviour becomes a habit which helps continuous improvement in behaviour and performance. Employees develop the habit of selfappraisal and development. It helps to instil creativity and confidence in employees who are encouraged to behave properly again and again.


Motives depend on the level of satisfaction. Employees getting more satisfaction through learning develop high motives. Less satisfied learners have low motives. Learning is complete only when motives are fully realised and translated into efforts.


Habits help achieve good efforts and performance. This is a continuous process. Efforts are the automatic outcome of good habits which are acquired through the learning process. Self-development is possible through self-effort. Employees willing to develop themselves are self-motivated and effort-oriented.

Read: Personality Definition | Determinants of Personality | Personality Characteristics

Principles for Learning

Over the years, educational psychologists have identities several principles which seem generally applicable to the learning process. They provide additional insight into what makes people learn most effectively.

6 Most important principles for learning are:

  1. Readiness
  2. Exercise
  3. Effect
  4. Primacy
  5. Intensity
  6. Recency
Principles for Learning
Principles for Learning


Readiness implies a degree of single-mindedness and eagerness. When students are ready to learn, they meet the instructor at least halfway, and this simplifies the instructor’s job.


The principle of exercise states that those things most often repeated are best remembered. It is the basis of drill and practice. The human memory is fallible. The mind can rarely retain, evaluate, and apply new concepts or practices after a single exposure.


The principle of effect is based on the emotional reaction of the student. It states that learning is strengthened when accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling, and that learning is weakened when associated with an unpleasant feeling.


Primacy, the state of being first, often creates a strong, almost unshakable, impression. For the instructor, this means that what is taught must be right the first time.


Intensity: A vivid, dramatic, or exciting learning experience teaches more than a routine or boring experience. A student is likely to gain greater understanding of slow flight and stalls by performing them rather than merely reading about them.


The principle of recency states that things most recently learned are best remembered. Conversely, the further a student is removed time-wise from a new fact or understanding, the more difficult it is to remember.

Factors Affecting Learning

The key factors affecting learning include:

  • Their resources
  • Their image of learning
  • The rewards associated with any learning activity
  • The availability of information about learning opportunities
  • The availability of appropriate learning environments, possibly virtual learning
  • The climate in which learning takes place, especially that created by government and employers.

Read: What is Assessment Centre | Use of Assessment Centre | Assessment Centre Method

Application of Learning

Some of the behaviour modification techniques are given below which may be used in the organization:

  1. Use of Lotteries to reduce Absenteeism
  2. Work pay Vs sick pay
  3. Training and Development
  4. Discipline
  5. Self-Management
Application of Learning
Application of Learning

Use of Lotteries to reduce Absenteeism

Attractive prizes can be included in a lottery that can be used gainfully to achieve a reduction in absenteeism.

Work pay Vs sick pay

Organizations have to leave policy. Apart from other leave, there is a provision for a few days of sick leave in a year.

Training and Development

Training and development programmes must be run systematically and in a preplanned manner.


Behavior modification can be achieved by laying down the minimum standard of discipline in the organization. Defence organizations are most disciplined organizations because they do not compromise on the standards, be it related to training, work, supervision, accounting or disbursement of salary and wages etc.


Learning concepts are meant for modifying the behaviour of others. These theories are also applicable for self-management. Individuals should lay down personal standards, objectives relating to personal growth, identify various courses of action to adopt and modify self-attitude and behaviour.

Theories of Learning

Theories of learning have been developed as models of learning which explain the learning process by which employees acquire a pattern of behavior. There are four theories of learning discussed below.

  1. Classical conditioning theory
  2. Operant conditioning theory
  3. Cognitive learning theory
  4. Social learning theory

Read Complete: Theories of Learning

Measures of Consumer Learning

For marketers, the dual goals of consumer learning are increased market share and brand-loyal consumers. These goals are interdependent.

Thus, it is important for marketers to measure how effectively consumers have “learned” its message. Recognition and recall tests are conducted for measureing consumer learning.

  1. Recognition and Recall
  2. Brand Loyalty
Measures of Consumer Learning
Measures of Consumer Learning

Recognition and Recall

Recognition and Recall tests are conducted to determine whether consumers remember seeing an advertisement and the extent to which they have read it or seen it and can recall its content.

Recognition tests are based on aided recall, whereas recall tests use unaided recall. In recognition tests, the consumer is shown an ad and asked whether he or she remembers seeing it and can remember any of its salient points.

In recall tests, the consumer is asked whether he or she has read a specific magazine or watched a specific television show, and if so, can he or she recall any ads or commercials seen, the product advertised, the brand and any salient points about the product.

Brand Loyalty

Brand Loyalty is the ultimate desired outcome of consumer learning. Brand loyalty consists of both attitude and actual behaviours toward a brand and that both must be measured. Attitudinal measures are concerned with the consumers’ overall feelings about the product and the brand, and their purchase intentions.

Behavioural measures are based on observable, factual behaviours regarding the brand, such as quantity purchased, purchase frequency and repeated buying.

Behavioural scientists who favour the theory of instrumental conditioning believe that brand loyalty results from an initial product trial that is reinforced through satisfaction, leading to repeat purchase.

Cognitive researchers, on the other hand, emphasize the role of mental processes in building brand loyalty. They believe that the consumers engage in extensive problem-solving behaviour involving brand and attribute comparisons, leading to a strong brand preference and repeat purchase behaviour.

Therefore, brand loyalty is the synergy among such attitudinal components as perceived product superiority, customer satisfaction, and the purchase behaviour itself.

Difference between Training, Education, Learning & Development


Training is nothing but learning by doing. It is a well-planned program aimed at developing specific skills and knowledge of the manpower. It is a common concept of human resource development where an attempt is made to improve the performance, productivity and competency of the existing and potential employees through learning. The program is specially designed by the organisation to achieve definite goals.

An employee undergoing training is presumed to have had some formal education. No training program is complete without an element of education.


It is theoretical learning in classrooms. The purpose of education is to teach theoretical concepts and develop a sense of reasoning and judgment. That any training and development program must contain an element of education is well understood by HR Specialists.

Any such program has resource persons to enlighten participants about theoretical knowledge of the topics proposed to discuss. In fact, organizations depute or encourage employees to do courses on a part-time basis. CEOs are known to attend refresher courses conducted by business schools.

Education is more important for managers and executives rather than low cadre workers. Anyways education is common to all employees, their grades notwithstanding.


Learning is the process of absorbing that information in order to increase skills and abilities and make use of it under a variety of contexts. Whatever the goals, the quality of the learning will rely largely on the quality of the training, and so the role of a trainer is very important as it can have a huge effect on the outcome of a course for the learner.

In essence, learning is all about equipping a person to tackle not just today’s issues, but preparing him/her to creatively come up with ways to tackle tomorrow’s issues.


Development means those learning opportunities designed to help employees to grow. Development is not primarily skills-oriented. Instead, it provides the general knowledge and attitudes, which will be helpful to employers in higher positions.

Efforts towards development often depend on personal drive and ambition. Development activities such as those supplied by management development programs are generally voluntary in nature. The development provides knowledge about the business environment, management principles and techniques, human relations, specific industry analysis and the like is useful for better management of a company.


  1. Robbins, Stephen P. 2010. Organizational Behaviour. New Delhi: Prentice-Hall.
  2. Caldwell, D.F., and C.A. O’ Reilly III, “Measuring Person-Job Fit with a profile-comparison Process,” Journal of Applied Psychology, December 1990, pp.648-57.

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