Skip to content

What does learning at school actually mean?

Learning is generally defined as the acquisition of knowledge and skills. This broad definition covers very different areas, such as language acquisition in infancy, learning to ride a bicycle and swim (mostly) in kindergarten, or vocational training and continuing education for adults. Learning processes thus help us to constantly expand our behavioral repertoire and to adapt it to our life circumstances. Human learning processes are generally more flexible than those of animals. In evolutionary biology, this is of great advantage because the human species can adapt very efficiently to changing environmental situations and actively help shape them. However, the extraordinary flexibility of our brains also makes learning processes more error-prone than in the animal world.

We learn throughout our lives. Learning at school is of particular importance because it is here that children are taught core cultural competencies (reading, writing, arithmetic and much more) and culturally accumulated knowledge in a targeted manner in order to prepare them for life in our society. While learning processes in general take place where they are necessary and directly relevant for the individual, the learning content in school is determined by its social relevance.

How successful school learning is depends on the interaction of a variety of factors. These include

  • individual learning and development factors,
  • a supportive social and family environment, and
  • school learning opportunities tailored to these conditions.