Learning by example

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani | published 25th Mar 2011 | last updated 5th Jan 2023
Photograph of two people sitting next to a laptop

Photo by Mars Sector-6 on Unsplash

There are several different modes of learning which would be grouped under the umbrella theme of learning by example, and these are suited to different types of decision making. The table below, adapted from Lee (1999)[1], is a taxonomy of learning which shows also the mode of accumulation of knowledge as the result of the learning process (column 3) which may be more or less generalisable, and examples to illustrate areas of application of each mode (column 4).

Mode of learning Mode of decision making Knowledge accumulation output Example
Trial and error solving a particular problem empirical knowledge Learning by doing
Adaptive management group model-building strong inference Green Revolution
Unmonitored experience identify plausible solutions models of reality most statutory policies


The adaptive management approach has been widely advocated in the natural resources and ecology literatures, although being more influential as an idea than a way of doing conservation so far. It is a scientific, research-based approach which may be difficult to implement due to the relatively long time-frame required and perceived high cost to obtain results. It is also difficult to assess outcomes over long time-frames in the face of significant dynamics, and complexities of open-systems. See also the pages on social learning.

weADAPT partners are working on the understanding of and transition towards adaptive management in climate change adaptation, notably in the NeWater Project, the Advancing Capacity for Climate Change Adaptation (ACCCA) project, and also through studies on decision-making in the ADAM project.

Technical Design

'Learning examples' in ADAM

The EC project on Adaptation and Mitigation (ADAM) developed several 'learning examples'. What are the climatic risks facing the stakeholders? What is the range of adaptive actions available to stakeholders? What would be robust strategies and actions given the uncertainty in future vulnerability and climate change? What processes--information, multi-stakeholder forums, and institutional relationships--support, or hinder, adaptive management?

Further resources