Cognitive Differences Between Adults & Children
There’s an old saying that goes “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and, whether you believe that or not, the same principle cannot be applied to humans. In fact, adults can learn just as easily as children but there are several basic differences between what works effectively for adults and what works best for children.
Experience Of LifeAs an adult, you’ll have had far more experience of life in general than a child and whilst this can help an adult more than a child when it comes to learning, it can also hinder them and a child’s lesser experiences can occasionally prove more beneficial. That’s because, as an adult, you tend to have more rigid patterns when it comes to learning that you’ve found work for you and, therefore, an adult can be less willing to explore new ways of doing things which can hinder progress whereas a child is usually keen to explore anything and they remain more open minded than adults who are sometimes more reluctant to go beyond their comfort zone.
How Adults And Children Use Different Techniques For LearningFor an adult learner, their experiences of life will have been far more vast and diverse than that of a child’s and their brain’s maturity will enable them to apply their learning through relating it to certain experiences they’ve had. How a child will usually learn is through a combination of question and answer quizzes, rote memorisation and drills, e.g. learning your ‘times tables’. This technique however, does not work so well for adults who not only become bored by it but it will also seem irrelevant and a process which bears no relevance to the way they tend to want to learn new things.
The Significance Of ‘Purpose’ In LearningThere are marked differences between adults and children when it comes to the importance of purpose in learning. Especially when they are of primary school age, children are simply happy to accept what they are learning regardless of its purpose. For example, a young child will not realise the long-term importance of understanding why “1 + 1 = 2” or “3 x 5 = 15” nor will they question why they are being taught this. However, for learning to make any sense or to have any meaning or give added value to an adult’s life, it must have a sense of purpose. Whether that’s to learn new skills to further career prospects or to discover more about something they are really interested in, an adult needs to be able to relate that learning to something in their life that means something to them. After all, adults will have far more responsibilities in life than a child and, therefore, less time to attend to different things so, in order to learn effectively, a sense of purpose is crucial to the whole experience.
Practical Application Through LearningAdults tend to be much more enthusiastic about learning when they can become more actively involved, as opposed to simply listening to what the teacher has to say and only being encouraged to give an opinion or an answer when asked which is more common in a children’s classroom. Therefore, adults tend to learn better in situations where role playing, group work and discussions are encouraged and where opinions can be given more than children who, whilst often being encouraged to work in small groups and to discuss issues, often find that much harder to do and to relate to, although some children are naturally good at it. However, with an adult there will be a self-serving motive behind that which isn’t the case with children.
The Role Of Hierarchy Between Teacher And LearnerChildren need to be able to identify with the teacher as the person who’s in sole command in order to be able to learn effectively. They might not know why they are learning a particular thing but because they relate to the teacher as the dominant force in terms of the hierarchy within the classroom, they don’t question what is being taught and as they get a little older, they simply assume that what is being taught will be relevant to their lives at some stage. For an adult, however, this situation would never work. Adults need to be treated like adults which is why you’ll often find that even at university, most students are on first name terms with their lecturers and their lecturers respect them as equals. In other words, effective learning as an adult is more likely to result if there is no differentiation in status. A good example of this is where you see groups of people who may be receiving counselling for some reason who all tend to be seated in a circle with the counsellor also forming part of the circle which signals that there is nothing hierarchical about the relationship between the counsellor and those receiving the counselling, i.e. everyone is equal.
The differences in the way we learn as adults and as children, therefore, come about as our needs are very different at specific points in our lives. It’s usually from around our mid to late teens which is the point at where the ‘crossover’ comes when teenagers of that age feel the need to also place the same kind of values and have the same kinds of questions that mature adults have when it comes to learning and the point at which the learning needs to be meaningful and relevant if it is to be successful.