Is Learning by Osmosis Possible?

24 February, 2020
Not only is learning by osmosis possible, it's one of the most effective ways for children to gain knowledge. Today we'll tell you how and why.
When we talk about learning by osmosis, we’re referring to learning that takes place in a natural way while sharing with others.

Is learning by osmosis possible?

Many of you may have heard, with a touch of sarcasm and doubt, about learning by osmosis. But despite the skepticism, it’s possible for children to learn by osmosis. Osmosis is a scientific term that refers to the diffusion that takes place between two liquids or gases that are able to mix across a semi-impermeable membrane – in other words, the reciprocal influence between two elements that are in contact with another. 

Therefore, learning by osmosis is learning based on the reciprocal influence of two individuals. So, learning by osmosis is a form of learning based on the observation and imitation of the behaviors and abilities of others. It occurs naturally in a wide range of contexts – both academic and everyday – and not always consciously.

Is Learning by Osmosis Possible?

Learning from the environment and from others

If learning by osmosis is based on contact with others, then, naturally, it involves everyday learning based on practice and experience. This means learning from one’s surroundings and from the way that people behave within them… Surroundings from which we learn codes and beliefs, behaviors and knowledge, as well as ways to relate to one another and to speak.

So, depending on the characteristics of an environment, we learn one thing or another, and there are some environments that are more stimulating than others. In the same way, there are people who are more interesting and others that are more hostile.

There are even contexts where we feel like we simply don’t fit in. So, in any environment, even the most insignificant one, consciously and unconsciously, we always learn something new.

Therefore, in any concrete environment, we learn abilities and behaviors and we increase our knowledge. However, on occasion, we also unlearn, mainly, believes and attitudes. In other words, in an array of different settings and in contact with others, we learn both good and bad things that help to form who we are as people.

The main characteristics of learning by osmosis

The main characteristics of learning by osmosis are the following:

  • Takes place in very diverse settings and by means of contact and interactions with others.
  • Involves learning based on the observation of other people’s behaviors. For example, parents, educators, friends, characters from television and movies, social media, etc.
  • Leads to imitation and repetition, or rejection, as a means of internalizing new knowledge. For example, values, behaviors, gestures, codes, ways of talking, etc.
  • Is learning that takes place naturally. And, although it can also occur in the context of formal education, it takes place informally and not always consciously.
Is Learning by Osmosis Possible?

The importance of setting and an adult figure in learning by osmosis

Just like any other form of learning, learning by osmosis complements and should be complemented by other types of learning. Since this type of learning is so closely related to the environment, favorable environments are important in producing significant learning.

Therefore, if we refer to the education of children and adolescents, the role of parents and educators is fundamental in creating favorable environments. Adults should guide, accompany, and orient their children and students in the interpretation and reinterpretation of the environments where they grow and develop.

Final thoughts…

We should point out that learning by osmosis is a type of learning that’s inevitable. It occurs in any sort of situation or context – in every experience a person has. It involves constant everyday learning that, if produced in positive and stimulating environments with extraordinary people, can be truly transformative.

  • Díaz Vicario, A. y Gairín Sallán, J. (2014). Monográfico: Entornos escolares seguros y saludables. Algunas prácticas en centros escolares de Cataluña. Revista Iberoamericana de Educación, nº 66, pp. 189-206. Recuperado de https://rieoei.org/historico/documentos/rie66a12.pdf
  • Bower, G. H y Hilgard, E. R. (2007). Teorías del Aprendizaje. Editorial Trillas. México.