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I came across this sentence written by a native speaker:
(1) "学年{がくねん}ごとに学習{がくしゅう}する漢字{かんじ}が決められています。"

To communicate the same meaning, I would have said:
(2) "学年ごとに学習する漢字が決まっています。"

#1 is passive voice: "The kanjis that are studied each academic year have been decided."
I interpret #2 to mean "The kanjis that are studied each academic year are decided."

Is that right? If so, can I extend that idea to:
"机{つくえ}の上{うえ}に載{の}っている。" <-- same? --> "机の上に載せられている。"
[more verbs that have transitive and intransitive forms]

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Yes, the two sentences about kanji have the same meaning, but there is a slight difference in nuance or, I should say, focus.

Sentence #2 「[学年]{がくねん}ごとに[学習]{がくしゅう}する[漢字]{かんじ}が[決]{き}まっています。」 sounds more "neutral" or "generic" than Sentence #1. It does not place a focus on anything.

Sentence #1 「学年ごとに学習する漢字が決められています。」, being in the passive voice form, places an amount of focus on the fact that people with power got together and decided which kanji should be learned by what grade kids.

However, if I had seen #1 all by itself, instead of side by side with #2, I actually might not have felt the focus I mentioned as much as I did when the two sentences were given in a pair from the beginning.

Your second pair of sentences about a thing being placed on the desk is a different story. The first sentence 「[机]{つくえ}の[上]{うえ}に[載]{の}っている。」 sounds much more neutral and natural. It just says that something is on the desk.

The passive voice version 「机の上に載せられている。」 sounds like someone went to the trouble of putting something on the desk for a specific purpose. It could sound like there is a problem with the thing that was placed on the desk.

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