Learning is basic to life. Learning can be involuntary and voluntary. Involuntary learning is a function of the brain where the brain cells are so organized as to organize reflex reaction. Illustratively, heat can burn therefore that part of the body shuns the point that causes heat and there is a physical withdrawal. Thus the brain records the cue that heat is to be avoided. The rest of the reaction gets programmed.
It is the voluntary learning at different stages of the game that then becomes the centre piece of action. The brain function is organized to repeat what gets favourable reaction and what doesn't. It tends to repeat the first and avoid the latter. The learning process has begun. From the mother's lap to early socialization running to different levels of school it is a continuous chain. This often culminates in a preponderance of self-learning. Indeed learning is continuous and sometimes the only input of learning is the environment. Thus it is that the entire spectrum of learning is covered by structured learning, unstructured learning and for the more evolved--intuitive learning.
At the core of any learning theory is a simple fact. The fact is that nobody will learn, non-reflex action, unless there is a will to learn. If the will is grudging, learning is hugely impeded. If it is voluntary, then the learning quotient can be high. In the Indian philosophies, 'mun' is considered central to learning. The closest English equivalent word to 'mun' would be 'attention'. No one can learn unless one wishes to learn. This is the reason why certain schools of thought have considered 'mun' central to even listening.
That being so, different types of learning are classified into different categories. Inevitably, when technology is involved, printed books, acetate sheets, overhead projectors, slide projectors, videos, CDs, pen drives and many, cousin instruments enter the scene. This will be further matched by the groups of learners which can range from one person learning situation to small groups, large groups and geographically dispersed groups. Complexity has just begun.
The learning process itself has been further categorized from self-learning to traditional learning environment to smart learning environment. Some have seen many layers of self-learning from the crass material to the evolved Meta physical.
The traditional learning environment deals with tools of learning and aids to learning such as the book, the library and more. More recently, scholars like R Huang, J Yang and Y Hu have tended to distinguish even between digital learning and smart learning. They are of the view that traditional learning environment differs from the smart learning environment in six aspects. They have to do with learning resources, learning tools, learning communities, teaching communities, ways to learn and ways to teach. The basis of these categories and their number are open to debate but that is another matter. More to the point and in keeping with the spirit of this text is the need to realise that there is such a thing as willingness to learn and preparedness to learn. This is central to all understandings of learning effectiveness.
Learning can be informal which is an important component of learning. But learning also has to be formal which focusses on a whole system of learning. The later often needing accreditation.
In the meanwhile the cheer leaders of smart learning are multiplying by leaps and bounds. That kind of euphoria for new technology is neither new nor recent. One has noticed this from the coming of computers. In fact the protagonists of computers have always been at pains to point out how knowledge dissemination has been made a distributed process, simultaneously making it more accessible and universal in character. Advantage of near universality has its obvious risks but that is another story. The regret seems to be that smart learning seems to be getting confused only with technological innovation. Smart learning would, also, have to indent for psychic learning which comes out of experience sharing.
There are other categories beginning from the verbal bases of learning. These too have marked by successive stages of growth.
The jury is still out on various technology based learning and especially those which revolve around aps, modularity and almost assuming that no learner can make a mistake and therefore never needs to be evaluated. What follows that in this process is quite un-structured. Indeed, it may well be a situation of no teacher, no guide in the conventional sense!
This is a palpably erroneous position to take because the role of the guru has also been universally recognized, across time.
The time may not have come to retire the concept of the guru and make all learning self-paced.
All in all, like in many other areas of human endeavor, learning methods and style are in a state of flux. What the future holds, future shall reveal.