that Influence Learning Ability
A variety of
factors determine an individual’s ability to learn and the
speed of learning. Four important factors are the
individual’s age, motivation, prior experience, and
intelligence. In addition, certain developmental and
learning disorders can impair a person’s ability to learn.
people of all ages are capable of the most common types of
learning—habituation, classical conditioning, and operant
conditioning. As children grow, they become capable of
learning more and more sophisticated types of information.
Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget theorized that
children go through four different stages of cognitive
development. In the sensorimotor stage (from birth to about
2 years of age), infants use their senses to learn about
their bodies and about objects in their immediate
environments. In the preoperational stage (about 2 to 7
years of age), children can think about objects and events
that are not present, but their thinking is primitive and
self-centered, and they have difficulty seeing the world
from another person’s point of view. In the concrete
operational stage (about 7 to 11 years of age), children
learn general rules about the physical world, such as the
fact that the amount of water remains the same if it is
poured between containers of different shapes. Finally, in
the formal operational stage (ages 11 and up), children
become capable of logical and abstract thinking.
to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives.
For example, most adults can successfully learn a foreign
language, although children usually can achieve fluency more
easily. If older adults remain healthy, their learning
ability generally does not decline with age. Age-related
illnesses that involve a deterioration of mental
functioning, such as Alzheimer’s disease, can severely
reduce a person’s ability to learn.
usually most efficient and rapid when the learner is
motivated and attentive. Behavioral studies with both
animals and people have shown that one effective way to
maintain the learner’s motivation is to deliver strong and
immediate reinforcers for correct responses. However, other
research has indicated that very high levels of motivation
are not ideal. Psychologists believe an intermediate level
of motivation is best for many learning tasks. If a person’s
level of motivation is too low, he or she may give up
quickly. At the other extreme, a very high level of
motivation may cause such stress and distraction that the
learner cannot focus on the task.
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