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
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
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.