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What Is Conceptual Learning?

By Geisha A. Legazpi
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Conceptual learning, or concept learning, is a learning method as well as a form of critical thinking in which individuals master the ability to categorize and organize data by creating mental logic-based structures. This process requires both knowledge construction and acquisition because individuals first identify key attributes that would make certain subjects fall in the same category or concept. Knowledge construction is a constructive learning process in which individuals use what is familiar or what they have experienced to understand another subject matter, while knowledge acquisition is a learning process wherein a student acquires knowledge from an acknowledged expert. Conceptual teaching is increasing in popularity, especially when used for math and clinical subjects, but applying the method to explain more complex concepts can be a struggle for many educators.

This learning method is often compared to procedural learning, considered the most conventional and widely used method of teaching. Procedural learning requires individuals to memorize procedures but does not require the understanding of concepts. Conceptual learning does not require any kind of memorization, and instead focuses instead on the understanding of the concepts or structures behind different operations or procedures.

Supporters of procedural learning believe that students’ memorization of operations will eventually lead to conceptual learning, but this is not always the case. Studies have shown that this type of learning can lead to procedural learning, but the reverse does not produce the same results. Students who undergo procedural learning first have a hard time applying their knowledge in new or unfamiliar situations due to an insufficient grasp of the concepts behind the subject matter.

Conceptual learning and teaching may be more easily understood by observing how they are applied in a real-life situation. In nursing education, for example, conceptual teaching is encouraged because it is believed to help students understand more about the different relationships that make up any emergency or workplace situation they encounter. Aided by conceptual learning, nursing students are able to react more effectively and efficiently in almost any given situation.

In general, conceptual learning is largely dependent on conceptual teaching. For this type of learning process to work, educators must learn to take into account different learning styles and ensure that their students have a full grasp of the subject matter. Educators must also learn how to apply different teaching styles to ensure that all concepts are explained properly and completely.

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Discussion Comments
By ZipLine — On Dec 04, 2014

It's surprising that conceptual learning doesn't come naturally to us all. I had once read that the brain thinks in patterns. It's always looking for a pattern in information because that's how the mind stores and categorizes info. So shouldn't conceptual learning be very easy for us then?

By ysmina — On Dec 04, 2014

Conceptual learning is absolutely vital in some professions, like the medical field. But it's also very beneficial in other fields too.

I have a degree in social sciences and the biggest issue with this group of studies is that it's mostly theoretical. We are not really given knowledge that we can apply to the real world. We just learned about theories and learned to form our own opinions about them. But when it comes to real-life application, it just doesn't translate. I wish social science instructors concentrated more on conceptual learning and actually gave us tools that we can use in the real world.

The point of schooling isn't so that we can show off how much we know. It should be about using what we know to make the world a better place. How many of us can do that or know how?

By candyquilt — On Dec 03, 2014

I'm all for conceptual learning. I hate memorization because like the article said, it doesn't involve learning. It's just a method to remember a piece of information for a brief time period. I hate it when teachers require their students to memorize everything. The student will pass the class but will probably not remember any of what she memorized after a few months. That's not learning and it doesn't benefit anyone.

I like learning concepts in a way that I internalize it and store it in my long term memory. So if I need that information again in the future, I will be familiar with it and will restore it quickly.

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