Related to comments Ken Allen and Tony Karrer made on my blog, I began to think about the mind of the adult and the "basis" on which adults learn (the "mind velcro" on which we can build on).
The first two phases of Learning
I was recently watching a TV show about teenagers (living with two, I need all the help I can get!) and they presented some information on some of the research that has been coming out of brain scans. There are basically two times in a person's life when there is great growth and change in the brain: around 3-7 years old and at puberty. It has been an accepted fact that early childhood is a time when the brain develops exponentially as language skills especially are developed. However, new research shows that at puberty, old connections that have not been used (experiences that are not reinforced, information used only once) the brain culls to make way for new learning. As the brain changes during puberty, some areas such as reasoning finally growing, teenagers can learn just as much as in young childhood.
This brings me to something Ken pointed out. If young children don't have the ability yet to reason, then it is possible that they learn the motions of reasoning, but not the abstract concepts. As a result, what they have really learned in not in abstract form. That does not happen until the reasoning portion of the brain develops.
When I think back on my school days, I remember the mechanical processes (how they were taught, instructions from teachers and my parents) learned in Kindergarten to 3nd grade. These were rules for reading, multiplication tables, spelling words. I don't remember anything but the mechanics. Middle school is a blur and I can't recall any of my experiences in school (except for the social angst associated with being a middle school student). When I think of what I learned in high school, I think of much more abstract ideas (rhetoric, subtle differences in vocabulary, scientific method).
However, certain concepts are still stronger from my elementary years (the laws of addition) without the understanding of the abstract ideas (algebra). For example, it was not until I had to work with my children that the laws of addition made sense from a conceptual level. While I am sure we went over the concepts in algebra, I maintained the simplistic understanding from grade school as it was not necessary for me to truly understand the math behind it. I mastered the functions of arithmetic so a deeper understanding of the math behind it was not necessary.
What Does This Mean for Adult Learners?
Language teachers know that the hardest skills to change are those that were learned incorrectly originally and "fossilized" at a young age. With the new research on puberty, I would also suspect that those that were reinforced during puberty (again without critical thought, the meaning may be fossilized in a distorted manner) are especially difficult to change. Perhaps this is why some people still hold on to the "lessons" they learned from high school and refuse to change (such as what is the "correct way" to write, communication tools, etc...).
Over the next few weeks I will be exploring some of these issues while I work on my dissertation. One thing I have noticed already is that adults become entrenched in their learning, holding on to the "truths" they learned at a young age. It is important to 1) change fossilized skills that are built on a lower level of learning, 2) create experiences that require adults to look at the assumptions (velcro) that is the basis for their learning, and 3) push adults to recognize there may be gaps in their understanding (not what they learned but how they came to make meaning of the content) that may require a new adult perspective at fundamental skills (such as knowledge, writing, analysis, arithmetic, communication). The last two are tricky, because by making them look at basic skills, many perceive this at too "elementary" or that we, as trainers/educators are underestimating their intelligence.
- V Yonkers
- Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.