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1-Factors 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.

A- Age

Animals and 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.

 

Adults continue 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.

B- Motivation

Learning is 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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