A Way to Define Learning

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Do you want to make your learning much better and more fun? If yes, continue reading …

Many times, I have asked people to explain how they define learning. Unfortunately, some answers have not been useful. Similarly, a dictionary definition of learning can have issues. Example: A dictionary defines learning as  “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught 1.” One problem with this definition is that it is not very motivating to me or to people I know.

Over time, I have built a definition of learning that I find useful. Thus, I want to share this definition so that it might be useful to others. My definition of learning is

Learning is a method2 for three things:

  • Figuring why XYZ 3 is useful (the Why)
  • Figuring how how to do XYZ well or how to do XYZ better (the How)
  • Figuring out the ideas needed for doing XYZ (the What)

Learning involves mastery of how something (i.e., XYZ) is done and how to do it ourselves 4.


One topic I am learning right now is Finance in the context of starting up a business. I apply the definition like this:

  • Why. Figuring out Finance is super useful to me: (a) I will be able to figure out if my business or any business is financially healthy. (b) I will be able to figure out how to positively impact the financial health of my business, and (c) I will be able to communicate with experts in finances; i.e., I will understand the lingo.
  • How. To be good at Doing Finance, I will figure out topics such as (a) How to read financial reports and statements, (b) How to run time-value-of-money calculations, and (c) How to make financial decisions.
  • What. I need to understand the lingo, ideas, and methods that are presented in my Finance textbook. Example topics include the income statement, accrual accounting, GAAP, and the definition of terms such as sales, revenue, and gross profit, …


Learning is a method. Since it is a method, it can be decomposed into small steps that anyone can take. Thus, anyone can develop the ability to learn insanely well.

Big Picture. Learning can be summarized as (a) figure out why XYZ is super useful, (b) figure out how to do XYZ, and (c) figure out the essential facts/concepts/theory.

Rationale. The reason for learning is to figure out how something is done and how to do it well ourselves; i.e., Learning is for doing. (L4Doing)

Community Discussion

We welcome any comments.  Some ideas and topics of discussion are listed below.

  • My #1 reason for learning is so that I can do something well. What is your #1 reason for learning? Rationale?
  • What is your best definition of learning? Rationale?
  • Ask a few people to state their definition of learning off the top of their head. How are the answers similar? How are the answers different? Did people have a well formed definition or did they struggle to pull together their ideas?


  1. The Apple OS X dictionary.
  2. Learning involves about 10 methods, but we group these methods into a category called the “Learning Method.”
  3. XYZ represents any topic. Examples: Skiing, accounting, statistics, teamwork, chemistry, …
  4. Soghoian, Sal; Cheeseman, Bill (2009-06-02). Apple Training Series: AppleScript 1-2-3 (Kindle Locations 1144-1146). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

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