I understand that the use of learnings is very controversial. Some say you can't use it, while others say, "there is nothing wrong with teachings, so why with learnings?".

I want to use learnings not as the action of learning something (a lesson) but as a list of things that are being learned and that have been learned.

Often the suggestion to replace learnings in this context is lessons.

Lessons implies:
1) the process: things that has been taught (directly or indirectly such as a life lesson)
2) the action: of learning
3) the result: the thing that has been learned

In all the three cases, a lesson is taught by someone or something and it has a direction or a goal, or is seen as having a kind of sense (a lesson of math makes you clever, a lesson of life wiser).

Some examples:

  • "Performing an art requires some complex learnings to survive"
  • "Species need to make some learnings" (epigenetics is a kind of learning/adaptation).

Don't you think "lesson" would be inappropriate? A) I heard that "we can't quantify a learning", but you do "teach lesson", and you can quantify a lesson (a general lesson can contain little lessons). So why not quantifying a learning that are not a lesson? The problem is to explain the difference between both since apparently there is no word that could define precisely (in a perfectly neutral way) what a learning is made of.

I am looking for a world that only keep the meaning 2 and 3 but that would not imply the teaching part: "several things have been learned, but no lesson has been taught (not even what positive or negative "life lesson"). You would not talk about "evolutionary lessons" for instance. The things learned had no goals: learning just happened".

To illustrate this point, think about a fish. It did not really have to be taught to breath under water and to reproduce, but somehow by evolution the fish learned it, not strictly speaking at the individual scale but at the species scale. We could talk about "evolutionary skills". Those skills have been acquired without teaching but they are still in a way "learned" through many failed and successful adaptations and epigenetics which is a kind of innate learning.

It comes handy also when speaking about animal social learnings, at least when we consider the "learnings" that have been learned (and accumulated through generations) but that haven't been "taught" (not even even vaguely through positive or negative "life lessons". I'm talking about evolutionary skills, like the fish example).

Would you agree with the use of learnings in this case?

EDIT1: Imagine "learning" as a result (of a learning process). If it was commonly accepted in English, would you see the differences between some "social learnings" and some "social lessons"? I struggle to define precisely this difference (in french it's easy to see the difference between them, we have to words). I guess this "teaching" connotation (directly or indirectly) that bother me.

EDIT2: The topic might be tricky because it talks about the line between nature and nurture. Some believe that this line is becoming more and more blurry, some people start to think that they is no line at all (can we really change more easily our environment than our innate nature?). Imagine a kind of learning that would be half way between innate and nurture, or even a learning that would be more innate than "nurture" (like specific epigenetics "learnings"). Don't you think "learnings" would come handy to talk about this last one?

  • I'm not sure that I can answer your question competently (hence, the comment). This post discusses the origins, use and 'correctness' of the word learnigs. Perhaps it will help you, perhaps confuse you further. In any case lessons is more often used than learnings as this Ngram shows. – Lucky May 1 '15 at 14:34
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    EDIT1: Imagine (just try) that there is less of a teaching connotation in "lessons" than you suppose. – David Pugh May 1 '15 at 15:31
  • Your edits are making this question less on-topic. This isn't primarily a site for imagining how the language could otherwise work (except for questions which explicitly ask for neologisms.) This site is about what English is, not what it hypothetically could be. – curiousdannii May 1 '15 at 15:34
  • @curiousdannii I apologize if I went off topic, I could not find any better way to describe why I can't use "lesson", it's a tricky one. – JinSnow May 1 '15 at 15:39
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    I know you're French, and what I and curiousdannii have been trying to tell you is that "social lessons" is fine and "social learning" bad English (in this context, mind, there are lots of books about the processes of social learning. But not like in one learning, two learnings, three.) Lesson is the word you WANT, so just use it already. – David Pugh May 1 '15 at 15:52

Learning as a noun is very unnatural. Using it would instantly mark you as someone who speaks English as a second language. The appropriate noun to use is lesson. I don't think there is any logical reason why it is unnatural, because, as is so often the case, language is unpredictable.

You say that lesson or lessons implies intentionality, but this is not the case. Neither does the verb to learn imply an intentional teacher. This is asymmetrical: both to teach and teachings are intentional, but it is equally valid to say that something was learnt in intentional and non-intentional contexts.

The ability of fish to breath in water would not be considered something that is learnt - it is simply innate. Other animals certainly do learn, and can be taught. As with humans, it is appropriate to say that animals can learn skills even when not being intentionally taught.

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    "Learning as a noun is very unnatural. Using it would instantly mark you as someone who speaks English as a second language." I think in the interests of M. Combot we should clarify that the noun in other usages like "He is a man of great learning" is perfectly OK. – David Pugh May 1 '15 at 15:05
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    @DavidPugh Oh good point about 'great learning'. So it can be acceptable as a mass noun, referring to a whole education, but not individual things that someone learnt. – curiousdannii May 1 '15 at 15:35
  • @curiousdannii ok but how would you call a specific learning if it hasn't been taught, and especially if it was somehow more close to the innate than the other side? – JinSnow May 1 '15 at 15:48
  • @GuillaumeCombot If it is something that was acquired then 'lesson' is appropriate. It the creature has always had the ability, then 'talent' would be best I think. 'Skill' could be used for something that was learnt or not. – curiousdannii May 1 '15 at 15:50
  • @curiousdannii thank you for your patience! I like "social skills". Instead of "social learning" that would be so handy, (but sadly forbidden!). Your comment gave me an idea: I could maybe use "learned abilities" it doesn't have the lesson connotation (goal+life teaching). Does it sound alright for a native English speaker? – JinSnow May 1 '15 at 16:10

"there is nothing wrong with teachings so why with learnings?"

To which I should respond, it might be nice if English had such an expression, but it doesn't.

The good news: "Lessons" can cover a lot more than formal sessions of teaching: you have "life-lessons". "Never do such-and-such at poker", and after losing your shirt you have learned a important lesson. So I assure you that you can use "lessons" for your 2) and 3) without fear of committing yourself to their being taught by some guy with chalk-dust on his jacket and leather patches on his elbows (or with horizontal green ears...).

I am unhappy with the idea of the fish "learning", but this is another issue. Come back to that if you want.

  • @Thanks David! A life lesson, remains a teaching, it has a point and even an immediate goal (to make you wiser), I'm need to talk about "learnings" (sorry I can't fin any better word!), that are half-way between nature and nurture, or just (to simplify the things) just within the level of nurture: so no lesson taught. I edited my question (edit1 & 2) – JinSnow May 1 '15 at 15:34
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    What makes me really unhappy about your idea of species learning is the hypostatisation of the species, as if it is a thing that can do stuff. A species is a mere abstraction. It is some human deciding to classify some critters together with other critters. What actually happens is that some critters do it right and live, other critters do it wrong and die. Then the ones that get it wrong don't have offspring. I don't like the term "learning" for this natural selection. And the species does not "learn", the human category called species becomes full of different critters than before. – David Pugh May 1 '15 at 15:47
  • I understand your frustration about it. I agree with you about the global idea. My fish example is not really accurate. I just used this evolution to picture an much more complex idea that would be too long to explain here and much more confusing. I'm struggeling to find an equivalent of "social learnings" that would not have the "lesson" connotation. We use the same word in french and english, it has exactly the same meaning/connotation (we also get the "life lesson"). Lessons can't fit on the way I need to write about "social learnings". "Social lessons" would not work. – JinSnow May 1 '15 at 16:04

I'm brand new here so am cautiously, I hope, going to get my toes wet. To teach is a deliberate act. One can teach many different things on a single subject, therefore "teachings". Teachings are also a definable body. However, to learn, while it requires participation of some sort (even if only, for instance, learning about gravity by falling off a cliff), is like to breathe - it is a process which mostly takes place outside of our direct control. To talk about "learnings" is like talking about "breathings" - the air we breathe becomes an idiosyncratic part of a larger system; the thing learned becomes, and only functions as part of, the larger system of knowledge into which it is inducted. Further, while we may all be taught the same thing, what we learn is at least somewhat idiosyncratic. So while it is very popular among school administrators in our area, it still sounds pretentious and awkward to me. As I said, I'm very much a student and welcome correction on this.

  • Thanks Marion to wet your toes! That argument "It is very popular among school administrators", seems to play strongly in favor of "learnings" since these people are working in the education fields. Compare with the rest of the population (who doesn't work on that field, like me), we can't deny that these people have, statistically, a better knowledge about this "learning" word than the others (who did not really study it, or even need to think about it). – JinSnow May 2 '15 at 7:00
  • Concerning the "pretentious" argument, I don't think that this is the words that are pretentious, but the people who carry them. A smart word could serve a mediocre issue, some would argue that human words are mainly use for that. That said, its interesting to know that it will sound awkward, pretentious or foreigner. – JinSnow May 2 '15 at 15:32
  • M. Combot, thank you for your response to my comment. Your point about those working in the field of education is well taken. Sadly, unlike France, we play fast and loose with our language. To your point about the people not the words being pretentious, how true! Even the educated, and especially those who educated them, wantonly abuse language in an attempt to inflate their own purported wisdom. – Marion Blais May 3 '15 at 16:50

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