Responsive learning: characteristics and uses in education

We learn in many ways throughout our lives. This is reflected in particular in the school phase, where teachers teach through different techniques and methodologies. In the current education system, however, one type of learning prevails: receptive learning.

In this article, we will know what it is; In addition, we will analyze its characteristics, advantages and disadvantages and see how it differs from another type of more active learning: constructivist or meaningful learning.

    Receptive learning: what is it?

    Responsive learning is a type or method of learning that consists of the teacher teaches or transmits a certain subject already worked out and “treated”, and the student simply receives it and memorizes it by exposing itself to it several times.

    In other words, the only task the student has to do in this case to learn is to “listen and absorb” the information provided by the teacher (or someone else).

    Thanks to this type of learning, the pupil hardly makes any cognitive effort, because he limits himself to “memorizing” or “retaining” the information which he has provided. That is, receptive learning it does not focus so much on the student connecting previous concepts or drawing their own conclusions, But rather that you receive and recall information as it is presented to you.

    An insufficient type of learning?

    In this way, receptive learning it doesn’t require a lot of cognitive effort beyond review and rehearsal, As it does not allow the student to modify his previous cognitive structures or to change other knowledge that he already possesses. This makes it become, in a way, a limiting or insufficient learning, which does not promote a deeper reflection or understanding, but the simple repetition of the contents.

    Thus, the learning that the student will eventually acquire through receptive learning will always be more superficial and less lasting than the other learning that he obtains through other more active or constructivist methodologies, as we will see later.

    Therefore, although receptive learning has certain advantages and is useful in certain situations or in the face of certain subjects, it has been criticized as “one-time” learning, especially in recent years. In other words, the ideal is that the student learns through different learning processes, not just through him. But what alternatives are offered?

    Differences from constructivist learning

    For all that has been said, receptive learning more and more attempts are made to supplement other types of learning which require more cognitive effort on the part of the student; this mainly concerned the constructivist orientations, which encourage a type of learning based on the construction of the world by the student.

    In this second case we speak of constructivist learning, which provides truly meaningful learning, And where the student creates his own knowledge and conclusions through the content or keys provided by the teacher.

    This type of learning gives the student an active role in knowledge building, as opposed to receptive learning, where the student has a passive role and the teacher an active role.

      educational system

      If fortunately there are already alternatives and other complementary options to receptive learning, it is true that in the current education system, this type of learning is still valid and practically the only one used. like that, it becomes the basis of the education system and academic training.

      But … what are the characteristics of receptive learning in the school context?

      Characteristics of receptive learning

      The most striking characteristics of it (and which distinguish it from other types of learning) are as follows:

      1. Active role of the teacher

      In receptive learning, the emphasis is on the teacher, who plays an active role. Thus, this type of learning focuses on the teacher, on how he explains and conveys information to his students. Instead, the student himself retains a passive role of a simple “information receiver”.

      2. Importance of memory

      As we have argued, receptive learning relies primarily on “memorizing” content and the ability to reproduce it later (eg on an exam). This is why this type of learning is also considered as “repetitive” learning, where in addition, memory plays a key role.

      Thus, as with receptive learning, the student he cannot draw too revealing conclusions, Develop their own knowledge, modify their previous cognitive structures, etc. (As you could with constructivist learning). He must limit himself to exposing himself several times to knowledge, in order to end up memorizing and, in a way, internalizing.

      The advantage of this is that can be considered “low cost” learning (At least at the cognitive level); on the contrary, however, it only succeeds in creating rather superficial learning.

      3. Possibility of teaching several at the same time

      Another characteristic of receptive learning, and one which is also an advantage, is that it is a type of teaching which can be given to several students (or even several) at the same time.

      In this way, the teacher gives his lesson or transmits his explanations to several students at the same time. This makes it the “simplest” and the most economical methodology for the education system, and therefore remains the current methodology.

      4. Areas of application

      Receptive learning it occurs at all stages of school, especially in infant, primary and secondary education. It also exists in universities, but its presence is diminishing, because in these higher academic contexts there is a growing commitment to an education that fosters students’ critical thinking and decision-making capacity.

      The more opportunities you have to interact with the teacher, the more likely it is that other more active types of learning will take place, as the student will be able to respond, think about explanations, suggest alternatives, etc.


      While receptive learning has the drawbacks mentioned throughout the article, it also has some advantages.

      The main one is that receptive learning can occur relatively easily; simply the student will have to pay attention to the teacher’s explanations so that he can understand and retain the information. Another advantage is its low cost; that is, a single teacher can teach several students at the same time.

      Moreover, in the case of certain specific subjects where it is more important to memorize than to understand or to reflect, receptive learning can be a good option, although active learning will always be more rewarding for the student.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Moreira, MA (2012). After all, what is meaningful learning? Curriculum Review, 25: 29-56.
      • Sampascual, G. (2007). Educational psychology. 2 volumes. A D. Madrid.

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