What is the difference between student and learner?

Students typically exist in traditional school settings and are often taught to perform well for assessments. They may not be able to manipulate what they have memorized for testing purposes to fit new situations. Learners, on the other hand, are deeply engaged with the content and are personally invested in demonstrating growth. Learners can be found in classrooms and in numerous other environments. They may not even have a traditional teacher.

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Student and learner are clearly overlapping categories, but it is possible to learn without studying, or to study without learning. A student is typically someone who undertakes a course of study within an institution. There used to be a distinction between pupils in schools and students in universities and colleges, but this is disappearing, and all those who study within institutions tend now to be known as students. These students are taught regular lessons by professional teachers and are usually studying for a fixed period, with the aim of acquiring a particular qualification. The qualification may be of greater importance to the student than the knowledge gained, particularly if it allows them to gain entry to the next level of study or to a profession.

By the age of thirty, and well before it in most cases, people have generally stopped being students. However, if they are intellectually curious, they will be learners throughout their lives. A learner may learn by studying, or by practice, or by other means, with or without a teacher. You might learn a language mainly by moving to the country where it is spoken. You might learn to cook mainly by experimentation. In any case, if you read widely and take an interest in the world around you, you will always be a learner, even if you do not set out to learn specific subjects or skills.

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Being a learner represents a dynamic relationship with some sort of content, resulting in growth and new understandings. In the best situations, there is an excellent fit between a teacher, a learner, and the content. The learner is thus deeply engaged with the material, invested in the desire to demonstrate growth. Learners are typically intrinsically motivated, and good teachers facilitate this learning by adapting instruction, content, and activities in a way that continues to foster interest.

It is possible to be a learner without even having a teacher. Many people have diverse interests that they develop themselves. From learning to play guitar to learning how to edit videos to learning how to bake pastries, people often demonstrate that interest and motivation are key to being a true learner.

A student, on the other hand, is typically considered to exist in a traditional school setting. Students typically meet in groups of approximately same-age peers and often learn the same things at the same times, regardless of interest. Because of the nature of education in America, students are often taught to perform for tests and other assessments. Some people become quite good at being students, excelling on tests and without ever truly learning the material. Students memorize well yet sometimes cannot manipulate what they have memorized to adapt to new scenarios.

Looking back across a long and diverse range of educational experiences, most people can recall classrooms where they were students and others where they truly became learners. When material is relevant, appropriately challenging, and engaging, individuals are more likely to become great learners.

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As a long time teacher, I have, sadly, had dozens (if not hundreds) of students who simply showed up for class each day without bothering to pay attention in class or complete many of their assignments. They are students. A learner is a student who wants to absorb as much knowledge as possible and still seek more.

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I would say that a student is someone who attends school.  They might be a good student or a bad student.  They might go to class or they might not but they are still a student at that school.  A learner is someone who is interested in the information.  They might make wonderful grades or they might not.  The learner cares about gleaning the information and not necessarily about the grades.  Of course, someone who genuinely cares about gathering information isn't likely to fail a course or make poor grades.  They will retain the information and build upon it.  A true learner is likely to gather more from a course than other students.

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A student is someone who is very good at "playing school." They come to class, do the homework, raise their hand when prompted, and do what the teacher asks. The student will do what it takes to earn the desired grade, and no more. A learner, however, recognizes that he/she is there to learn skills and wants to apply those schools in a practical setting. A learner does school activities and work with the knowledge that there is a purpose behind them beyond a grade. He/she will seek new information even if that won't affect the grade at the end of the year.

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If there is one, it is that a learner is someone who actually cares about learning and is fully engaged in the process.  A student is someone who just shows up to class.  A learner is someone who wants to learn and is trying their best to do so.

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