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Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Learning in Childhood and As an Adult

February 22, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 150

Have you ever watched the television show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? On this show, adult participants are quizzed on subject matter from 5th grade textbooks, opposing a panel of 5th grade students. The adults generally don't fare very well, while the students shine. Why is this? Could adults, with much more education, including college degrees, know less that 10- and 11-year-old students? This show clearly points out some major differences between childhood learning and adult learning that I will discuss in this article.

Let's start with a 4-stage learning model.

Stage 1: DataStage 2: InformationStage 3: KnowledgeStage 4: Wisdom

The first stage of learning is the collection of data. We are all inundated with data - every page we read, every email and text message, everything we hear - in fact, everything that is taken in by all of our senses -- is data. Elementary school students are taught a lot of data. Adults are also inundated with data, but while the students are expected to absorb everything they are taught, adults look for relevance and purpose within the data - they filter the data according to their needs and interests.

Management guru, the late Peter Drucker, said that when you give data relevance and purpose, you get information - the second stage of the learning model. Adults seek information. Children don't know what will be relevant and purposeful to their lives, so they absorb all the data they are given. As they mature into adults, a lot of the data they learned in school is laid aside in their brains so that they can focus on what is relevant and purposeful to their lives. For some people, much of this data gets buried deep within their long-term memories and can be recalled - these people become the trivia experts and the Jeopardy contestants. But for most people, much of the data absorbed in school is lost - that's why adults have such a difficult time on the television show.

The third stage of learning is knowledge. Knowledge comes from applying the information you have gleaned to your work or your life. Until you apply that information, you cannot say that you really know it. For example, I like to cook. I have watched many cooking shows on television, and they provide a lot of data on recipes, ingredients, and cooking methods. Do I remember it all? No - I filter all that data for what I like to eat - those recipes that I would like to try become information for me - information that is relevant to my tastes in food and purposeful in that I want to try to make a particular recipe myself. But it is only when I actually try the recipe and cook something that I can say that I know how to make that dish.

The final stage of the learning model is wisdom. Wisdom comes from dialogue, demonstration, experience, and experimentation. For example, after making a dish a few times, I may decide to try altering the recipe by adding another spice or using different vegetables in the dish than are called for in the recipe. When I try these experiments, I learn what works and doesn't work for me, and that becomes my personal wisdom.

Much of what it taught to young children never goes beyond Stage 1 of the model - data. They may find, for example, that the history of Native American tribes is interesting, but for most students the subject matter is neither relevant to their lives, nor does it have a purpose. In elementary and high school, these data are prescribed by the school system according to set curricula or what will be asked on tests.

As adults, we self-direct our learning. Even if our employer requires us to take a course on some subject, we filter what is being taught for relevance and purpose in order to transform the data into information. When we apply what we have learned to our work or our lives, we transform it into personal knowledge. And as we gain experience in using our knowledge and skills, we may develop some personal wisdom around what works and what doesn't work for us in specific situations.

As children, our learning is directed by others. As adults, our learning is self-directed.

Dan Tobin's 2011 book, Learn Your Way to Success, published by McGraw-Hill, focuses on the many learning opportunities, both formal and informal, that employees have at work everyday, and how to use those opportunities to improve your current job performance and accelerate your career. This article, based on the book, appears in the February 2012 edition of Leadership Excellence. To learn more, visit:

Source: EzineArticles
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Article Tags:

Learning Model


Childhood Learning


Four Stages Of Learning


Adult Learning



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