International Forum of Educational Technology & Society

Formal Discussion Initiation

Law of the Minimum in Learning

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Time schedule:
Discussion: April 19-28, 2004
Summing-up: April 29-30, 2004

M. Yasar Özden
Middle East Technical University, Turkey



For a long time i am thinking about "Learning", what it is, how it occurs, what are the limitations, how can we improve its quality etc. eventually, i had a meaning for “learning”  and named it "Law of the Minimum in Learning".

I have influenced greatly from Justus von Liebig's (For more information on Liebig, see:1,2,3) Law of the Minimum which states that yield is proportional to the amount of the most limiting nutrient, whichever nutrient it may be. From this, it may be inferred that if the deficient nutrient is supplied, yields may be improved to the point that some other nutrient is needed in greater quantity than the soil can provide, and the Law of the Minimum would apply in turn to that nutrient.

If we redefine “yield” as learning and “the most limiting nutrient” as human readiness (either learner or helper) then we can easily say that meaningful or active learning is directly propotional to any of the human’s readiness. Unlike the plant system, just increasing any of the human readiness or increasing the quality nonliving constituents (instructional materials, methods) of the learning system may not improve the quality of learning process. At this point, we have to define learning system which is composed of living and nonliving contituents. Living constituents cover learner and the living helper of the learning process. Nonliving contituents cover all materials, methods and the environment where the learning process occur.

Whatever high quality? nonliving constituents present in the environment has secondary effects on learning process. Let’s say you have very effective? instructional material which has tested for many years? The success of this material is directly proportional to the readiness of the any  living constituents of the medium. This can be either learner or the learner helper. So, we can not increase the quality of learning process just increasing the quality of materials and/or methods. We have to focus on the living constituents of the learning environment.

Before going further, I want  to describe what “learning” means; learning is an active (Bruner) and  continuous process which occurs in any time and place and it has no negative value at all. Meaningful Learning is giving meaning and it occurs in a social context.

It is continuous and inherited to our offspring via "learnosomes"? which are the basic building blocks of the learning process. Unfortunately, there is no direct evidence for their molecular presence until now, but I am very optimistic for their presence and in near future.
Learning is a continuous process therefore we are learning whether consciously or unconsciously but continuously. We can not say that “I didn’t learn” because we are learning less or wrong but we are learning something. Therefore, it has no negative value.

It is never lost but  it is changed into new meanings by the help of the previous experiences and the social interactions. Learning is changed from one form to another (Learning is conserved).

In the light of those hyphothesis; we can easily sy that;

  1. in order to increase the quality of learning we have to focus human constituents of the system. We have to consider both learner and the helper readiness because the less ready human will determine the overall yield of the learning process.
  2. we have to find out good problems which has been defined by constructivists’ i.e. real life problems.
  3. learning environment should be enriched to give change different type learnings
  4. the role of the helper should be moderator and/or facilitator
  5. group work should be used during learning process.



  1. C.C. Gillispie (ed.-in-chief). 1981-1990. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol 7. Scribner, N.Y.
  2. C.A. Brown. 1942. "Justus von Liebig--Man and teacher." and "Liebig and the Law of the Minimum"in:Liebig and After Liebig: A century of progress in agricultural chemistry. Am. Assoc. Adv. Sci. The Science Press Printing Co., Lancaster, PA.
  3. van der Ploeg, R.R., W. Böhm, and M.B. Kirkham. 1999. "On the origin of the theory of mineral nutrition of plants and the Law of the Minimum." Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 63-1055-1062.
  4. Bruner, J. (1960). The Process of Education. Cambridge, MA: HarvardUniversity Press.



About moderator

Prof. Dr. M. Yaşar Özden is the Professor in the Comp. Edu. & Inst. Technologies, Middle East Technical University, 06531-Ankara, Turkey.

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