2 kinds of learning

Source: Deferred Feedback Sharply Dissociates Implicit and Explicit Category Learning by J. David Smith, Joseph Boomer, Alexandria C. Zakrzewski, Jessica L. Roeder, Barbara A. Church, and F. Gregory Ashby  Psychological Science 2014, Vol. 25(2) 447-457

Information-integration learning Rule-based learning 
Unconscious Conscious
Implicit learning: you can’t necessarily put what you’ve learned in words (& if you can, words come to you later) Explicit learning: you can put what you’ve learned in words
Intuition, everyday categories (good versus bad, wolf versus dog), social rules, habit Formal concepts, theories, disciplines, etc.
Grammar Vocabulary
Learns relatively slowly Learns quickly
Can’t learn “offline” (learning stops after a “lesson” is over) Can learn “offline” (learning continues after a lesson is over)
Must have immediate feedback from the environment – students must know whether their answer was right or wrong after each answer or no learning occurs Can learn with delayed feedback – students can get their tests back days later and still learn from their mistakes)
Can learn several things at the same time (e.g.: can learn the orientation and the width of a visual stimulus in order to categorize it correctly) Can learn just one thing at a time (can learn the orientation or the width of a stimulus in order to categorize it correctly, but not both at the same time)


I’ve been mulling Smith et al’s Deferred Feedback Sharply Dissociates Implicit and Explicit Category Learning since the summer of 2014, when it was published (press release here). It’s life altering. 

This study probably proves, finally, that we have two separate and distinct learning systems inside our brains. UPDATE 8/12/2020: maybe not, we’ll see

Psychologists and cognitive scientists have been talking about “dual systems” and “dual systems theory” forever, but no one had nailed it down. Now someone has.

The two systems are separate and distinct in the sense that if you turn one system “off” the other still learns. They’re “dissociable.” 

And: the 2 systems learn differently.

“Deferred feedback” looks at category-learning, but as far as I can tell both systems can and do learn anything, including physical skills. 

The chart is correct (I think), but it says nothing about the relationship between the two learning systems–which no one seems to understand yet. UPDATE 8/12/2020: Anne Collins and others are working on this

So, while I’ve put “vocabulary” under explicit learning, I’m fairly sure vocabulary can also be picked up via implicit learning. 

And given what I’ve seen in the L2 literature about grammar learning, it seems clear that some explicit learning helps with grammar, too–at least, with the kind of grammar you use in formal writing, as well as with learning the grammar of a second language.

Obviously, no one learns the conversational grammar of his or her native language at school. 

In short, the two systems seem both to compete and to support each other in some way no one has worked out. [update 1/14/2019: Yes, the 2 systems compete.]

8/7/2020 UPDATE: Looks like the two systems compete where decision making is concerned but cooperate in learning.