In implicit learning, knowledge is acquired without the explicit intention of learning anything. Without being aware of the learning and without knowing what has been learned. Explicit learning, on the other hand, is conscious and intended and is therefore also called intentional learning. Distinct brain areas support implicit learning and associated procedural memory, while other brain areas support explicit learning and declarative memory. Procedural memory concerns both learning motor skills and learning certain cognitive skills, such as learning to read. Such skills are acquired through repetition and by performing better in small steps. Procedural memory is also important for learning rules that apply to words and sentences. Declarative memory or explicit memory is a form of long-term memory in which one can consciously experience or recall stored knowledge. It is usually distinguished into two subforms, namely the episodic memory for events in our personal lives and the semantic memory in which knowledge of the world is stored. Under certain conditions, implicit and explicit learning and their associated memory systems overlap.

Natural learning

Much natural learning happens unconsciously. Unconscious skills and knowledge support behavior and therefore actions and performance of people. There is a continuous interaction between conscious and unconscious learning. The moment a student recognizes the unconscious dimensions of learning and tries to gain control over them, it is no longer unconscious learning. Other areas of the brain then become involved in learning. These areas are located in the prefrontal cortex and control executive functions, which are still fully developing in adolescence. They are less developed than areas that regulate unconscious learning. This may mean that learning that unconsciously leads to new knowledge and skills will be worse if it is done consciously. An example is the conscious and explicit teaching and learning of metacognitive skills, for example reflecting on one's own work. Implicitly, this is a very normal process, but when it becomes explicit and students see it as normal learning material, the motivation to engage in it is often completely lost. Explicitly taught metacognitive skills are not perceived as knowledge at all. Adolescents do not attach value to explicitly learning to use these skills. They think it's a waste of time. Time that could be used for more fun things or 'real' knowledge. They see no point in completing yet another questionnaire with reflection questions. The involvement with the knowledge and its importance is completely lost and with it the effect on learning. This skill for self-reflection improves with age and develops until late adolescence. There are also large individual differences in the use of metacognitive skills in adulthood. Many adults are also unable to explicitly reflect on their own work or behavior. The question is whether they would have been able to do that if they had learned it in adolescence.

School learning

An incorrect assumption is that learning school knowledge and skills is the same as natural learning. There are a number of important differences: A first difference is that involvement in and the importance of the new information is implicit in natural learning. If the involvement and interest are not there, learning will not occur. This is different with school learning. Some material needs to be learned without adolescents realizing its importance or being very involved. Society demands that certain subject matter be mastered. Certain learning material is also required as prior knowledge in order to acquire other necessary knowledge. This material must be explicitly taught and learned. A second difference is that natural learning involves learning without the explicit intention of learning something. People are not or only partially aware that they are learning something and they do not know exactly what is being learned. Explicit, scholastic, learning, on the other hand, is always conscious and intended. It is also the intention that the student knows exactly what he has learned and it is also tested whether the student knows exactly enough. The third difference is repetition. Repetition is more important for school learning than for natural learning. With natural learning, repetition is often not necessary, because social events in particular have a very strong emotional charge, which ensures sufficient involvement and importance. Without repetition, the information is also anchored in the memory. This does not mean that repetition does not occur in natural learning. Repetition plays a crucial role in learning to speak and listen. Finally, the development and functioning of the brain is not intended for school learning but for natural learning. Explicit learning is therefore supported by different brain areas than natural learning. The fact that a student learns outside the classroom or outside the school without the teacher offering and structuring the information does not mean that this also happens when it comes to school knowledge and skills. In fact, if knowledge that a student learns and applies implicitly is converted into explicit learning material, this can hinder the learning process.