Applied Linguistics

Receptive learning characteristics and uses in education Benefits

We learn in many ways throughout our lives. This is reflected especially in the school phase, where teachers teach using different techniques and methodologies. In the current educational system, however, one type of learning prevails: In this article we will provide you the information about the receptive learning.

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

Receptive learning: what does it consist of?

Receptive learning is a type or method of learning that consists of the teacher teaching or transmitting a certain material already elaborated and “processed”, and the student simply receives and memorizes it through repeated exposure to it.

That is, the only task that the student must perform in this case to learn is to “listen and absorb” the information provided by the teacher (or someone else).

With this type of learning, in reality, the student does not make practically any cognitive effort, since he is limited to “memorizing” or “retaining” the information he provided. That is, receptive learning does not focus so much on the student relating previous concepts or drawing their own conclusions , but on receiving and remembering the information that is presented.

An insufficient kind of learning?

In this way, receptive learning does not require a great cognitive effort beyond revision and repetition , as it does not allow students to modify their previous cognitive structures or change other knowledge they already have. This causes it to become, in a way, a limiting or insufficient learning process, which does not promote reflection or deeper understanding, but only the repetition of the content.

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

This is why, although receptive learning has certain benefits and is useful in certain situations or on certain topics, it has received criticism as “unique” learning, especially in recent years. That is, the ideal is that the student learns through different learning processes, not just through him. But what alternatives are proposed?

Differences with constructivist learning

Despite all the comments, receptive learning is increasingly trying to complement more with other types of learning that require more cognitive effort on the part of the student ; In addition, constructivist orientations, which promote a type of learning based on the construction of the world by the student, were especially attended to.

In this second case, we are talking about constructivist learning, which provides really meaningful learning , and where the student creates his own knowledge and conclusions through the contents or keys provided by the teacher.

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

educational system

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

But … what characteristics does receptive learning have in the school context?

Characteristics of receptive learning

The most important features (and which allow us to differentiate it from other types of learning) are the following:

1. Active role of the teacher

In receptive learning, attention is focused on the teacher, who maintains an active role . Thus, this type of learning focuses on the teacher, on how he/she explains and conveys the information to his/her students. On the other hand, the student himself maintains a passive role of mere “recipient of information”

2. Importance of memory

As we move forward, receptive learning is mainly based on “memorizing” the content and being able to reproduce it later (for example, on an exam). That is why this type of learning is also considered “repetitive” learning, where, in addition, memory plays a key role.

Thus, as through receptive learning, the student cannot draw too revealing conclusions , elaborate his own knowledge, modify his previous cognitive structures, etc. (As I might do with constructivist learning). You must limit yourself to repeatedly exposing yourself to knowledge, so that you can memorize it and somehow internalize it.

The advantage of this is that it can be considered “low cost” learning (at least cognitively); on the contrary, it only manages to create a very superficial learning.

3. Possibility to teach many at once

Another characteristic of receptive learning, which is also an advantage, is that it is a type of teaching that can be provided to several students at the same time (including many).

In this way, the teacher teaches his lesson or transmits his explanations to several students at the same time. This makes it the “easiest” methodology to apply and the most cost-effective for the education system, which is why it remains the current methodology.

4. Scope of application

Receptive learning occurs at all stages of the school, especially in kindergarten, primary and secondary education . In universities it also exists, but its presence is reduced, because in these academic contexts more and more committed to an education that promotes students’ critical spirit and their decision-making capacity.

The more possibilities there are to interact with the teacher, the greater the possibility of other types of more active learning, as the student will be able to respond, reflect on the explanations, propose 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; The student must simply be attentive to the teacher‘s explanations so that he can understand and retain the information . Another of its advantages is its low cost; that is, a single teacher can teach many students at the same time.

Furthermore, in the case of some specific subjects where memorization is more important than understanding or reflecting, receptive learning may be a good option, although active learning is always more enriching for the student.

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