Paul Antcliffe
26 October, 2021

What does it mean to learn something?

What does it mean to learn something? This very simple question can be very difficult to answer. Indeed, it is the basis of much academic work and there are many eminent theorists in this field, but the most important thing for us is that by answering this question we can understand the basis of great teaching. Image_NAISPudong_Shanghai_2021077

Briefly, the commonly-held academic definition of ‘learning’ is: a change in long-term memory. This is where the academics may start talking about neurology and epistemology! But as teachers, parents and students, we are more interested in the practical day-to-day realities of what it means ‘to learn something’. How do we know if a student has truly learnt something? We know what is being taught but how do we know what is being learnt by each student?

This is where the concept of ‘transferability’ is helpful. Transferability has been described as ‘the Holy Grail of teaching and learning’ because of its importance to the learning process. Simply, it means: to be able to recall information or perform a skill at a later date and in a variety of different contexts. If a student can not recall a fact then they have not learnt it - we all know this. But if a student can not use a fact in a variety of contexts then they have not truly learnt it either, because they can not transfer this knowledge. The same is true for learning new skills.


And this where ‘transferability’ gets really interesting. The best way to ensure transferability, and thereby learning, is to ensure the students have truly enriching educational experiences that enable them to acquire new skills and knowledge, and then apply it to different contexts. This is why we provide such a broad, enriching and stimulating curriculum - it is not only more engaging and fun, it is also the best way to truly learn.

In sports, think of students practising their skills and then applying them in competitive games. In mathematics, think of students finding everyday examples to show mathematical concepts. In English, think of students learning the themes in a story and then authoring their own creative writing which shows these influences. In performing arts, think of students rehearsing and then performing to audiences. There are so many more examples across all ours subject, and each example shows the students learning new knowledge and skills by transferring them to different contexts.

We are proud of the curriculum that we deliver because of the way that it enables the students: to develop, to aspire, to understand, to inspire, to express themselves, to be challenged - to learn by transferring their knowledge and skills.