Monday 21 April 2014

Who are better learners: children or adults?

Who are better learners: children or adults? 

As children do we have a natural ability and motivation to take up new interests, which as adults we seem to loose? Are there too many social pressures on adults or are there other reasons for the apparent decline in a human-being’s capacity to learn?

In the process of learning following three questions have to be kept in mind. What is to be learnt? (area / subject of learning). Why something-anything is to be learnt? (the purpose of learning). How to learn? (the method/s of learning). The above questions, pertaining to the ability of learning that vary in children and adults, fall under the category of third question of the process of learning i.e. how anything can be learnt?

In the Greco-Roman tradition, there are two classical theories of acquiring knowledge. First is, the concept of ‘tabula rasa’, which considers mind as a blank slate in the beginning; everything comes to it from experience. For instance, it is from seeing so many round objects, which were not perfectly round, that man is able to abstract the idea of the circle. Second classic theory goes back Plato, who claimed that such “ideas” of the circle or the triangle or the line are perfectly innate in the mind, and it is because they are given to the mind, man is able to project them on reality.

Now, in the case of children the theory of tabula rasa seems apparent. As a child has a mind with no experience. So for a child each day is a lesson and any object he sees for the first time is a wonder. As a result, the child will have natural interest in any new thing that appears before him. And, as it is a natural process hardly any external motivation is required, except in the cases of inequality (social, economic and so on) or of psychological complexes (inferiority complex, trauma and so on).

On the other hand, adults are possessed with experiences (good or bad), learning (proper or improper) and social status whether satisfactory or otherwise. Here, the theory of Plato is partially applicable. When any new thing appears before an adult, he/she would evaluate it with his/her past experiences, his/her learning and so on, because of which the process of learning is delayed. It is further delayed because of the various responsibilities that fall on him/her as an adult, be it social, economical, and so on. In the case of adults motivation plays a crucial role.

Nevertheless, there is no fundamental difference between a children’s or an adult’s ability of acquiring new things, in fact an adult is more mature in terms of experience and learning. However, recent research on the neurophysiology claims that the human nervous cells are specialized. That is a nervous system of an individual differs from another hence, his preserving and sustaining the knowledge would differ accordingly.

Thus, there are no barriers or pressures for adults in appreciating new things, but it is because they are so much taken away by prior things that they can hardly pay any attention to new ones. To conclude that human ability to learn as adults would be misleading. On the contrary there can be seen increase in human arena of learning. However, as result of over reliance on the technology and electronic media, the decline of human imagination can be seen apparently.

Mihir Dave

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