There is no question about it, children and adults learn in different ways. The argument can be made about which one is better, and they are numerous schools of thought on the theories for each, but the bottom line is that there is a clear variation between how a child learns and how an adult learns. There is a vast importance for learning at both the childhood and adulthood levels. As a child, one must learn on more of a basic, survival mindset in order to overcome the challenges that are present in the first few years.
Although, as an adult, the skills and cognitive abilities that were discovered as a child must be expanded and improved in order to meet the tasks appropriate for each growing age level. As a child, becoming familiar with different facts and ideas sets the groundwork for the knowledge that we hope to achieve as an adult. By establishing a good foundation, the process for learning as an adult can be adapted and improved upon to meet the progressing needs. The four main childhood learning heories are Maturationism, Environmentalism, Constructivist, and Stage-based Teaching. The four main adulthood learning theories are Life Experiences, Speck’s theory, Andragogy theory, and Jarvis’s learning process. Each one of these theories attempts to exemplify the processes and skill sets that each deems important to the learning process. One of the pertinent childhood learning theories, Maturationism, deals with the idea that the process by which we learn for the first couple of years is based on markers in our DNA (Hunt, 1969).
Most people in this school of thought believe that education and environmental factors merely plays a supportive role to child development, while certain instincts embedded in our genes actually govern around what age we learn thing like how to talk or walk. These factors can be manipulated and intensified by outside factors, but the main governing fact behind early childhood development is based around a Darwin like evolutionary instinct.
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Many advocates of Maturationism believe that holding a child back or starting a child a year late for school may be more beneficial in the long run, because they child is not at the proper developmental maturity to be able to handle that level of information, exemplifying the idea that a mind can only handle the information that it is developed to receive (DeCos, 1997). Environmentalism is another theory at the forefront of child development. Environmentalism is in fact the contrast to Maturationism theory in that it supports the idea that a child’s development and learning is shaped by their environment and outside factors.
The environmentalist theory enforces the idea of recitation and repeating, according to this theory, this is how children learn. By incorporating the outside experiences and storing them, they are able to build upon those ideas and improve upon them to learn (Skinner, 1938). It is deemed essential, and if a child is deprived of these factors, will not be as well educated or able to cope with higher learning as well as a child that was introduced to this Some argue that this is why children who come from enriched lifestyles are less likely to succeed in school as those who prepare better in infancy and young ages.
Another key theory is that of Constructivism. This theory provides that children are active learners in their education, and a child’s development is based on their motivation and abilities to seek out information (Atherton, 2010). In practice, this theory implements an active learning setting, allowing students to become involved in the learning, introducing toys such as puzzles or blocks that stimulate active interactions, thereby allowing the child to take a more participant attitude in their learning.
Should a child encounter problems in their learning, this theory supports the idea of channeling the process into a one on one, and more individual learning secession in order to improve on those weaknesses. One big supporter of this theory is Jean Paiget, a very well noted child psychologist Paiget has provided countless studies and supports the fact that most of what a child learns at young ages is what they deem pertinent and important to them.
In contrast to learning theories established for children, there are equally as many important to that of studying the learning process of adults. A major theory that is easily identifiable is that of the Life Experiences. Children display this theory to a degree, however, the lasting effects ten to be greater in adults. On an evolutionary basis, children use life experiences to know that falling down hurts, or to stay away from a dish once they realize it’s hot. These process are more involved on a cognitive level, and don’t play particular attention to an overall learning process.
When you are a child and someone takes your toy or pushes you down, you don’t tend to be as upset or concerned, and it’s usually something that can be easily forgotten. As adults, the value of the lessons learned from life experiences tend to be much more significant, and therefore there is more emphasis on the learning applications of said methods (Lieb, 1991). For example, for most people it takes only getting robbed once to start locking up their belongings. In that sense, adults are not only able to draw from their own life experiences, but also of that as a society.
For instance, there are many people who have never had a car accident, but barring laws, many would still choose to wear a seat belt, just due to the fact that is has been proven by other life experiences to be useful for saving lives and preventing injury In 1996, educational specialist Marsha Speck designed what is known as Speck’s Theory of adult education. This theory is a minor variation of the Constructivism learning theory more or less with the addition of ego in adult learners.
The theory offers that an adult will only pursue learning that is significant to them in one way or another, but they should rely on peer support and not be fearful of judgment (Speck, 1996). As adult learners, they must also be shown the effect of their knowledge in an applicable setting, in most cases. Most children follow after ideas and concepts that make them happy, however adults often times cannot maintain that luxury. Therefore, to gain the knowledge necessary, an adult learner must be shown the impact.
In the military, for example, often times there are many by gone traditions and customs that many are unable to identify with until they learn the importance and usefulness of the given information. The Andragogy theory is another theory that is relevant and in practice with the study of adult learning and professional development. In this theory, the main concern is process not product. It is stated that adults tend to value the experience and methodology over the actual content that they are left with at the end. By this process, emphasis is put on real world learning and role playing situation (Knowles, 1984).
The idea of getting a student out of a classroom and into a situation where they can actually learn as they go along is said to have a better and more powerful impact then taking notes or reading the process from a book. For instance, most students in trade career fields in particular tend to exemplify this philosophy in the method of applying more hands on and internship training into their curriculum. Vocational-Technical schools demonstrate how, even at a learning level, students are able to grasp enough of a trade to be able to iron out their abilities through hands on applications.
Another good illustration of this theory is in the military, whereby the majority of the training a given individual achieves comes not from their book based learning, but from real world on the job training. In this sense, the student is able to get immediate gratification and can see the importance of the concepts learned immediately. Both childhood learning theories and adulthood learning theories are important to every aspect. Depending on the subject being taught should govern the method behind which theory should be applied.
To learn second languages, many adults approach this with a mindset very difficult to breakdown, and therefore many find it very difficult. Children, on the other hand, are able to grasp a second language far easier. The argument purposed by Maturationists would be that children have a predetermined timeline for how learning occurs, and therefore children searching for a way to communicate their thoughts are able to pick up on more than one language at time, as their minds are ripe for that form of knowledge (Hunt, 1969). The largest problem for adult learning is ego and close-mindedness.
Most adults are just unable to get out of their own way in order to understand new topics. There are also differences in certain areas where adults are able to learn certain things at a much faster rate than children, and the most representation of this is in the life experiences theory. Children are able to learn simple concepts, but things like guilt, jealousy, and love are not things that children are able to grasp. These abstract emotions can’t be taught, even at a childhood level; instead they must be learned on an individual level, as the knowledge is not necessarily universal, but more individual.
Overall, there are a number of different theories and concepts behind each level of development in an individual. By classifying them, it can be noted what works best and what can be altered. In this way, the living organism that is the education system is dynamically and constantly changing. By dissecting how children learn, it is possible to improve on how adults can pick up on aspects like learning a foreign language, and children are able to learn thing like team dynamics. The open-mindedness and new age looks at education have shown how many different ways there are to teach, no matter what your age or learning style.
- DeCos, P. L. (1997, December). Readiness for kindergarten: What does it mean? Sacramento, CA: California Research Bureau, California State Library
- Atherton, J. S (2010) Piaget. Learning and Teaching; Piaget’s developmental theory. Retrieved July 29, 2010, from http://www. learningandteaching. info/learning/piaget. htm
- Hunt, J. M. (1969). The impact and limitations of the giant of developmental psychology. In D. Elkind & J. Flavell (Eds. ), Studies in cognitive development: Essays in honor of Jean Piaget. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Knowles, M. (1984). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (3rd Ed. ). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing. Lieb,
- Stephen. (1991, Fall). Principles of adult learning. Vision. Retrieved July 28, 2010, from http://www. economist. com/china
- Skinner B F. (1938) The behavior of organisms: an experimental analysis. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
- Speck, M. (1996, Spring). Best practice in professional development for sustained educational change. ERS Spectrum, 33-41.
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