There is a picture of a boy who is in class. In the picture the teacher is dictating a text, and the boy is writing it down.

The children are asked to describe this picture in one sentence: (What's he doing?) - He is...

Which verb is correct here, learn or study? Or both are correct? (The children don't know the difference between these two words yet, but they know that "to learn" means 'to get knowledge or skill' and "school" is a place where they gain more knowledge.)

To learn – to gain knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something.

To study – to read, memorize facts, attend school, etc., in order to learn about a subject. Source


A student who is writing down what the teacher is saying, or who is taking notes about the teacher's lecture, is not studying. Studying is the careful and attentive reading of written material about a particular subject, or the close examination of an object. The boy is learning, which is the acquisition of knowledge.

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    We aren't studying when we listen to a lecture and are taking notes. We are learning. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 5 '17 at 15:15
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    +1 but I think there is more flexibility than your answer suggests, people/native speakers and non, will use both terms. However, when a teacher is dictating a passage, students are practising several skills at the same time, they aren't reading, and taking down notes, which studying implies. – Mari-Lou A Feb 5 '17 at 16:09
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    Sorry, but I believe the flexibility is not there. Native speakers will not say the student writing down notes or dictation is studying. Students may be said to be "studying at university" but that is not the verb phrase here. Without "at university" or a similar locative, the bare -ing form of the verb means to be reading a text about a subject, carefully, or to be examining an object carefully. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 5 '17 at 16:43
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    He may or may not be learning. I know several students who are capable of writing down everything the teacher says, without learning a thing. He is studying, in that he is being a student. Sorry, but I think this answer is incorrect. – James K Feb 5 '17 at 19:32
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    @James K: You should have studied harder. "Studying" (all by its lonesome) <> "being a student". One can be "studying to be an engineer" but we need to be there to get the meaning "is a student (in a certain discipline)" or at the very least a direct object: "is studying engineering" – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 5 '17 at 20:58

There is a picture of a boy who is in class. In the picture the teacher is dictating a text, and the boy is writing it down.

'Studying', when used to describe an action or activity of an individual (i.e. not in the meaning of 'the state of being a student'), usually puts a focus on things they do on their own. As the teacher is prominent here, 'studying' is not a good choice.

'Learning' implies that the boy's knowledge or skill are actually increasing. This is possible, but not necessarily true based on the description of the picture.

So, while neither 'learning' nor 'studying' are good answers, 'learning' is the better choice, because it may be true.

As per userr2684291's comment, 'writing' is technically better than both if answers beyond 'learning' or 'studying' are allowed in the question, although it might be seen as a facetious answer.


The dictation is a part of educational course, so it would be 'studying'. Not 'learning', because nobody knows if that test or exercise really made the boy learn something.

I rather like *He is doing his dictation. *

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    perhaps "taking notes" or "taking dictation". On the other hand, he could be "doodling" – James K Feb 5 '17 at 19:37
  • Yeah, That is the point. Hah (High Five – user48367 Feb 6 '17 at 0:49

Learning refers to anything like learning to ride or sing or cook, but in terms of study it all related to something printed on paper.

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