We can learn in many ways, but the form that most fully encompasses the emotional, motivational and cognitive dimension is called meaningful learning .

When this type of learning takes place, the way in which previous skills and knowledge are associated and new information can be integrated into them is carved out by the motivational source and the meaning attributed to what is learned. This is important, taking into account that the key that makes the difference between the different ways of learning is in the process of knowledge construction .

An approach to the idea of meaningful learning

Meaningful learning is a process in which a person collects information, selects it, organizes it and establishes relationships with the knowledge he or she already has. Thus, this learning occurs when the new content is related to our lived experiences and other acquired knowledge with time having the motivation and personal beliefs about what is important to learn a very relevant role. This entails giving the new knowledge a unique meaning for each person, as we each have our own life history.

When meaningful learning occurs, mental models created through time and experience determine how we will view information and manage it. In a manner of speaking, our way of internalizing what is learned and giving it meaning gives us an idea of the “glasses” with which we see reality, and vice versa.

The emotional dimension of learning

The process of attributing a personal meaning to what we learn goes through a more affective and emotional dimension than that which we usually relate to the “technical” learning of a subject, in which it is simply repeated, practiced and memorized.

It is not just a matter of retaining information in memory for a period of time and then releasing it as it might be in an exam answer: the aim is to give a personal meaning to the knowledge , to be able to explain it in your own words, and even, once the significant learning is done, to create new knowledge through it.

Thus, the difference between significant learning and a repetitive learning refers to the relationship, or not, of the material to be learned with the previous knowledge. Meaningful and not arbitrary relationships, that is, if it is possible to relate it to previous knowledge, it will be possible to attribute some meanings, from which a mental map of knowledge would be constructed. In this way, the cognitive structure is modified, something that would not be done by repetitive learning, since it can only be maintained for a short period of time.

Two factors to consider

For learning to be meaningful, two conditions must be met.The content must be potentially significant from these aspects:

Logical significance

At the level of internal knowledge structure, it must be relevant and clearly organised .

2. Psychological significance

From the capacity to assimilate it, there must exist within the cognitive structure the relevant and relational elements with the learning material. Therefore, there must be a favourable disposition to learn the new material and to relate it to what one already knows.

Comprehensive memorization

It is obvious that in order to carry out a learning process, not only must the material exist, but also the motivational and emotional components are key to a good disposition to learn and the relationship between concepts. It is not only individual abilities to acquire knowledge that are at stake, in terms of maturation or cognitive competence .

In order to be able to consolidate this new knowledge through meaningful learning, comprehensive memorization is required. Building new meanings implies modifying previous ones and adding new elements to form relationships. Memorization is comprehensive because constructed meanings modify, add to and enrich cognitive schemes.

Moreover, the modification of cognitive schemes produced by the achievement of significant learning is directly related to the functionality of the learning carried out, that is, to the possibility of using what has been learned to face new situations.

When what is learned has meaning, it is not only more pleasant to expand knowledge: moreover, these remain well in the memory and can give rise to better solutions .

Bibliographic references:

  • Coll, C., Palacios. J, Marchesi, A. (2004). Psychological development and education, (2). Madrid: Alianza