Learner’s characteristics: Characteristics of adolescent and adult learners Individual differences. UGC Net


Learners Characteristics: Learning is a key concept in human behaviour. It is the axiom of all teaching and learning. It includes everything the learner does and thinks. It influences the acquisition of information, attitudes and beliefs, goals, achievements and failures, behaviour, both adaptive and maladaptive, and even personality traits.

Learning has been defined as a relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a result of experience and practice. Any good definition of learning should have three elements:

  1. Learning is a change in behaviour;
  2. This change takes place through experience or practice. Changes due to growth, maturation and inquiry cannot be considered as learning
  3. The occurred change must be relatively permanent, i.e. the learned response must last for a fairly long time.

Definition of Learning

Various psychologists and educationists have defined the concept of learning. Following are some of the definitions given by them:

Learning as a Process

Hilgard an exponent in the field of learning says, “Learning is the process by which an activity originates or is changed through training procedures.”

Bernard takes "learning as a process by which an organism satisfying the motivation adopts or adjusts to situations in which it must modify its behaviour in order to overcome obstacles and barriers."

Learning as a Change in Performance

McGeoch– a renowned comparative psychologist says, “Learning as we measure it is a change in performance as a function of practice.”

Walker, E.L. (1976) considers “Learning as a relatively permanent change in performance that occurs as a result of experience, and is not attributable to maturation, fatigue or motivation.

Learning as Acquisition and Retention

Crow and Crow opine “Learning involves the acquisition of habits, knowledge and attitudes. Skinner also includes learning as both acquisition and retention.

Characteristics of Learning

If we analyse the different definitions and interpretations of learning, the process and products of learning and different factors of learning, we can form some idea about the nature of learning. To sum up, learning has the following characteristics:

  • Learning is the modification of Behavior
  • Learning is Purposive: – McDougall stresses the purposeful nature of learning. In other words, learning is a goal-directed
  • Learning is a Continuous Process
  • Learning is a Universal Phenomenon: – Learning takes place everywhere by all organisms in all cultures. It is an activity that is taken up by all the living
  • Learning is Progressive and Developmental
  • Learning is Transferable: – Transfer in learning is feasible. Material, things and subject matter learned in one situation may facilitate or inhibit learning in the other situation
  • Learning includes all the three aspects of Human Behaviour

Types of Learning

We can classify learning in a dozen ways from general to the specific. Making general distinctions, psychologists have divided learning categories:

A. Conditioning: Generally speaking, the individual has to learn about the stimulus or the response/group of responses. If we learn something about a stimulus, it is perceptual learning. But when we learn to make a particular response or a group of responses, it is called response learning. Response learning could be single or multiple-response learning.

When an individual learns a single response associated with a specific stimulus or a stimulus situation, it is conditioning. Conditioning, where; using the sequence of pairing a conditional stimulus (CS) with an unconditioned stimulus (US), a conditioned response (CR) is learned. In this way, a number of conditional responses can be learned.

This type of conditioning occurs in human as well as animal subject, single-response learning can be subdivided into classical conditioning, operant learning, and aversive conditioning.

B. Motor Learning: It is also labelled as psychomotor learning or skill learning. This includes all kinds of things, people learn to do, such as eating with a spoon or fork, swimming, typewriting, drives a car etc. Learning of such skills depends upon maturity, sensory-motor coordination and integration of the responses related to the intended skill learned at initial preliminary stages.

C. Discrimination Learning: We see that animal and human beings discriminate between a number of things in daily life. The general feature of this type of learning is that the subject has to differentiate between the two stimuli which occur to him simultaneously or in close succession and one or the other is frequently rewarded or punished. Differentiation between mother and a stranger, a dog and a doll, a taste of learning. Three important situations of discrimination learning are probability learning, incidental learning and reversal learning.

D. Verbal learning: It is the most important kind of learning for human beings because it involves words and formal education situations, and even the most informal learning in older children and adults occur by the verbal route. It also provides an important link between elementary nonverbal learning processes on one hand and learning of language and thought on the other.

E. Concept Learning: It is more specifically meant for human subjects. Learning a concept is learning to react to some common property/properties in a group of objects. In children, concept learning starts at a very young age. At a very early stage, they try to learn about various stimuli of the environment and attach verbal labels for them, such as a house, wood, fruit, man, girl etc.

Once the concepts are learned, they are manipulated in language and thinking. At a higher stage of learning, power of thinking and judgment is developed, and the individual becomes capable of solving the problem in his own way.

F. Problem –Solving: This is the highest level of learning. In problem-solving learning, a problem is given to the organism, which discovers some of its relationship with its environment by some sort of manipulation. In fact, problem-solving in human beings and higher animals like chimpanzees is certainly more than operant conditioning.

Human beings very occasionally in solving their problems by more trial and error method. They make use of prior verbal learning; they evaluate the whole situation, employ verbal reasoning, and sometimes also use trial and error activity, and ultimately some solution to the problem is found out. Gestalt Psychologists have made a series of experiments in this direction.

Learners Characteristics

The concept of learners characteristics is used in the sciences of learning and cognition to designate a target group of learners and define those aspects of their persona, academic, social or cognitive self that may influence how and what they learn.

Learners characteristics are important for an instructional designer as they allow them to design and create tailored instruction for a target group. It is expected by taking account of characteristics of earners, more efficient, effective, and/or motivating instructional materials can be designed and developed.

Learners characteristics can be:

  • Personal,
  • Academic,
  • Social and emotional, and
  • Cognitive

Personal characteristics often relate to demographic information such as age, gender, maturation, language, social-economic cultural background and specific needs of a leader group such a particular skills and disabilities for and/or impairments to learning.

Academic characteristics are more education and/or learning-related such as learning goals of an individual or a group, prior knowledge, educational type, and educational level.

Social and emotional characteristics related to the group or individual with respect to the group. Ex. of social/emotional characteristics are group structure, place of the individual within group, sociability, self-image, feelings of self-efficiency and mode etc.

Cognitive characteristics relate to such things as attention span, memory, mental procedures, and intellectual skills which determine how the learner perceives, remembers thinks, solves problems, organizes and represents information in her/his brain.

Characteristics of Adolescent Learners (says that tean agers)

The characteristics of Adolescent learners can be explained in the following factors:

Physical Development:

  • Restlessness and fatigue due to hormonal changes.
  • A need for physical activity because of increased energy.
  • Developing sexual awareness, and often touching and bumping into others.
  • A concern with changes in body size and shape.
  • Physical vulnerability resulting from poor health/dietary habits or engaging in risky behaviours.
  • Bodily changes that may cause awkward, uncoordinated movements.

Intellectual (Academic) Development:

  • Moving from concrete to abstract thinking.
  • An intense curiosity and a wide range of intellectual pursuit, few of which are sustained over the long term.
  • High achievement when challenged and engaged.
  • Prefers active over passive learning experiences.
  • Interest in interacting with peers during learning activities.
  • An ability to be self-reflective.
  • Demand the relevance in learning and what is being taught.
  • Developing the capacity to understand higher levels of humour, some of which may be misunderstood by adults to be sarcastic or even aggressive

Social Development:

  • Experimenting with ways of talking and acting as part of searching for a social position with peers.
  • Exploring questions of racial and ethnic identity and seeking peers who share the same background.
  • Exploring questions of sexual identity in visible or invisible ways.
  • Feeling intimidated or frightened by the initial middle school experience.
  • Liking fads and being interested in popular culture.
  • Overreacting to ridicule, embarrassment, and rejection.
  • Seeking approval of peers and others with attention-getting behaviours.
  • As interpersonal skills are being developed, fluctuates between demand for independence and a desire for guidance and direction.

Emotional and Psychological Development:

  • Mood swings marked by peaks of intensity and by unpredictability.
  • Needing to release energy, with sudden outbursts of activity.
  • A desire to become independent and to search for adult identity and acceptance.
  • Self-consciousness and being sensitive to personal criticism.
  • Concern about physical growth and maturity.
  • A belief that their personal problems, feelings, and experiences are unique to themselves.
  • Overreacting to ridicule, embarrassment, and rejection.
  • Seeking approval of peers and others with attention-getting behaviours.

Moral Development:

  • An understanding of the complexity of moral issues (question values, cultural expressions, and religious teachings).
  • Being capable of and interested in participating in democracy.
  • Impatience with the pace of change and underestimating how difficult it is to make social changes.
  • Needing and being influenced by adult role models who will listen and be trustworthy.
  • Relying on parents and important adults for advice but wanting to make their own decisions.
  • Judging others quickly but acknowledging one’s own faults slowly.
  • Show compassion and are vocal for those who are downtrodden or suffering and have a special concern for animals and environmental issues.

Characteristics of Adult Learners

  • Problem-cantered; seek educational solutions.
  • Results-oriented; have specific results in mind for education.
  • Self-directed; typically, not dependent on others for direction.
  • Often sceptical about new information; prefer to try it out before accepting it.
  • Seek education that relates or applies directly to their perceived needs, that is timely and appropriate for their current lives.
  • Accept responsibility for their own learning if learning is perceived as timely and appropriate.

Individual Differences

Individual differences are found in all psychological characteristics physical mental abilities, knowledge, habit, personality and character traits.

The psychology of individual differences is largely the study of group differences. This study classifies individuals by age, traits, sex, race, social class and so on, and observes the differences within and between those groups. Physical, mental, social and cultural differences etc. are being studied, under individual differences.” – John P.De Ceeceo

According to Skinner, “Today we think of individual differences as including any measurable aspect of the total personality.” It is clear from this definition of individual differences that it comprehends every aspect of human personality which is in some manner measurable.

With respect to learner characteristics, there are often large differences between the characteristics of different learner and groups of learners such as children, students, professionals, adult, older people and disabled persons. This group differ in their motivation, prior knowledge, expertise level, study time, and physical abilities, etc.

Individual differences can be categorized on the following factors:

  1. Physical Appearance
  2. Intelligence
  3. Attitudes
  4. Achievement: It has been found through achievement tests that individuals differ in their achievement abilities. These differences are very much visible in reading, writing and learning mathematics.
  5. Motor ability
  6. Sex
  7. Racial differences
  8. Economic status
  9. Interests
  10. Emotion
  11. Personality


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