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Towards a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning

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The modern concept of competence comprises not only relevant knowledge and skills, but also a range of personal qualities and the ability to perform adequately and flexibly in well-known and unknown situations. To be up-to-date, the concept of learning must be understood in the same broad sense, and therefore traditional learning theories must be revised. The theory presented is based on two fundamental assumptions. Firstly, that all learning includes two essentially different types of process, namely an external interaction process between the learner and his or her social, cultural and material environment, and an internal psychological process of acquisition and elaboration in which new impulses are connected with the results of prior learning. Secondly, that all learning includes three dimensions, namely, the cognitive dimension of knowledge and skills, the emotional dimension of feelings and motivation, and the social dimension of communication and co-operation--all of which are embedded in a societally situated context. In addition, the approach specifies four levels of learning and deals with what happens when intended learning does not occur. Inside this framework existing learning theories deal with different aspects. Thus the new theory has been constructed as a sort of umbrella, offering an overview and a structure of the landscape of learning which can be applied in both analysing and planning learning processes, both inside and outside of the educational system. The development of the theory is described in detail in my book, The Three Dimensions of Learning, which has been a bestseller in the Scandinavian countries since 1999, and which has now been published in English (Illeris 2002).
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Roskilde University, Denmark

Publication date: 01 July 2003

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