Let's get multidimensional: A glossary of 225 learning terms

In my last post, I argued that, for educators at least, the word ‘learning’ is so vague as to be meaningless except as an umbrella term for “what we hope students will do”. My central argument is that learning is complex, dynamic and multidimensional. As such, when discussing learning students and teachers should seek to identify, as clearly as possible, the specific processes and features of learning that they are interested in developing.

In this post, I offer a glossary of learning terms, with the aim of helping myself and others develop more nuance in our discussions about learning. I hope this will prove useful, not least because it has taken me ages. I have certainly learned a lot in the process of pulling it together.

There are 225 terms in this first draft. If there are any additional terms you would like to see in the list – or if you find any mistakes or scope for improvement in the definitions included here – please add a comment at the bottom of the page. For each definition, I have included a link to the source; however, any mistakes in the sourcing or rephrasing of definitions are all mine.

A glossary of 225 learning terms

Accelerated learning

  1. An intensive method of study which enables material to be learnt in a relatively short time.

  2. A programme of learning which allows academically able children to progress through school more rapidly than others. (source)

Accidental learning

Accidental (aka incidental) learning is unintentional or unplanned learning that results from other activities. It occurs often in the workplace and when using computers, in the process of completing tasks. It happens in many ways: through observation, repetition, social interaction, and problem solving; from implicit meanings in classroom or workplace policies or expectations; by watching or talking to colleagues or experts about tasks; from mistakes, assumptions, beliefs, and attributions; or from being forced to accept or adapt to situations. This "natural" way of learning has characteristics of what is considered most effective in formal learning situations: it is situated, contextual, and social. (source)


This term stemmed from the work of Jean Piaget and his work on cognitive development of children. Accommodation is the cognitive process of revising existing cognitive schemas, perceptions, and understanding so that new information can be incorporated. In order to make sense of some new information, you adjust information you already have (schemas you already have, etc.) to make room for this new information. This is related to assimilation. (source)

Accredited learning

Learning that is accredited or certificated by an educational institution or other external body such as an exam board. (source)


Cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact. (source)

Action research

Action research is a systematic approach to professional development which is widely used in the field of education. It is a reflective process of progressive problem-solving, carried out in either individually or collaboratively, to improve personal and/or organisational practices. Action research involves actively participating in a change situation, often via an existing organisation, whilst simultaneously conducting research. As designers and stakeholders, researchers work with others to propose a new course of action to help their community improve its work practices (source).

Active learning

Active learning is generally defined as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process. In short, active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing. While this definition could include traditional activities such as homework, in practice, active learning refers to activities that are introduced into the classroom. The core elements of active learning are student activity and engagement in the learning process. Active learning is often contrasted to the traditional lecture where students receive instruction in the absence of agency. (source)

Adaptive learning

Adaptive learning is an educational method which uses computers as interactive teaching devices, and to orchestrate the allocation of human and mediated resources according to the unique needs of each learner. Computers adapt the presentation of educational material according to students' learning needs, as indicated by their responses to questions, tasks and experiences. The technology encompasses aspects derived from various fields of study including computer science, education, psychology, and brain science. (source)

Advance organisers

A cognitive instructional strategy used to promote the learning and retention of new information. (source)

Argumentation theory

Argumentation, or argumentation theory, is the interdisciplinary study of how conclusions can be reached through logical reasoning; that is, claims based, soundly or not, on premises. It includes the arts and sciences of civil debate, dialogue, conversation, and persuasion. It studies rules of inference, logic, and procedural rules in both artificial and real world settings. (source)

Artificial intelligence

Intelligence exhibited by machines. In computer science, an ideal "intelligent" machine is a flexible rational agent that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximise its chance of success at some goal. Colloquially, the term "artificial intelligence" is applied when a machine mimics "cognitive" functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as "learning" and "problem solving" (source)

Assessment for learning

Assessment for Learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there. Assessment for Learning is also known as formative assessment, or responsive (or agile) teaching. (source)


This term stemmed from the work of Jean Piaget and his work on cognitive development of children. Assimilation is the cognitive process of fitting new information into existing cognitive schemas, perceptions, and understanding. This means that when you are faced with new information, you make sense of this information by referring to information you already have (information processed and learned previously) and try to fit the new information into the information you already have. A similar process is accommodation (another one of Piaget's processes), but with accommodation the information you already have has to be adjusted to incorporate the new information. (source)

Associative learning

Associative learning is the process by which someone learns an association between two stimuli, or a behaviour and a stimulus. The two forms of associative learning are classical and operant conditioning. (source)

Associative memory

The ability to learn and remember the relationship between unrelated items such as the name of someone we have just met or the aroma of a particular perfume. (source)

Asynchronous learning