Developmental Aspects of Learning
The process of acquiring and stimulating the repetition of the information is explicitly dependent on one’s ability to memorize certain phenomena and items. One’s memory works on the basis of neural connections in the human brain. Essentially, one’s ability to remember certain things relates to the process of one neuron stimulating another neuron, creating a synapse, or a connection between brain cells (Gluck et al., 2020). Over the course of development, human memory tends to improve and change due to the differences between the neural ensembles, as certain stimuli tend to provoke different, sometimes even more elaborate, responses. For example, when a child receives an input of a “car,” there are not many neural responses stimulated by it, and the possible reaction may include a shape or a drawing of a car. However, over time, the network of neural connections expands as the child continues to stimulate brain activity by mirroring the communicative behavior patterns, and the synaptic plasticity becomes more efficient and stimulates responses quicker. Hence, essentially, the development of the adolescent’s memory depends on the amount of exposure to the potential neural connections and stimuli.
A fetus, from the age of 25 weeks, is capable of hearing different sounds and remembering their patterns. According to the studies, when a speaker with a certain sound is placed near the fetus, it tends to respond with movement, habituating with time (Gluck et al., 2020). If this sounds plays after a certain break, it takes less time for a fetus to habituate because it responds to the experience of hearing the sounds sometime in the past. The phenomenon is called prenatal learning, which means that the human brain is exposed to a certain ability to create neural links even before birth.
The notion of a sensitive period stands for the process known as a “window for an opportunity” that manifests certain time frames that are more beneficial for stimulating some learning opportunities compared to the normal cognitive state. This period, while sometimes called critical due to the belief that it is an extremely limited once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, has now been regarded as sensitive due to its proneness to be affected or extended by external stimuli. A prime example of a sensitive period opportunity in animals is imprinting. This phenomenon stands for the process of forming a critical emotional attachment to the individual they see immediately after birth (Gluck et al., 2020). Hence, while usually the first individual to be noticed after birth includes the animal’s parents and close family, the presence of an unrelated animal species may lead to a newborn animal forming a strong emotional attachment to them (Gluck et al., 2020). This behavioral pattern is highly relevant for birds, sheep, deer, and buffalo.
In humans, on the other hand, the idea of imprinting does not have such a strong influence on development. Undeniably, the interaction between the parents and their child is crucial for forming a meaningful relationship, but it is not mandatory for a baby to observe its mother during the first days of life in order to form an emotional and physical attachment to her. For this reason, it may be concluded that humans are more perceptive to the environment and context, so it takes more than immediate observation for them to recognize a parent.
Vision development is another example of a sensitive period in both humans and animals. According to the research conducted on animals such as cats and monkeys, any disruption in the healthy and steady development of one’s eyesight during this period leads to irreversible results (Gluck et al., 2020). An example of such an intervention is covering a cat’s healthy eye during the first weeks of its life. After exposing the eye to constant darkness for the vision formation period, the cat is no longer capable of seeing with this eye even though it has no physical damage. In humans, the aspect of vision is also developed during a sensitive period, but the responsiveness to the development is less primitive. Thus, for example, if a newborn child with cataract or other eyesight complications undergoes a correction surgery, the chances for rapid and efficient recovery are significantly higher.
Finally, the notion of language should be addressed during the sensitive period stage. Although the ability to learn a language is hard to compare with animals, language comprehension at a young age can be compared to birds singing. In both cases, the formation of intonation, sounds, and peculiar pronunciation stem from mimicking the behavioral patterns of one’s surroundings. Once the exposure to observation and mimicking is limited, both humans and birds tend to create abnormal sounds or never stop making sounds in the first place. Evidence suggests that isolation from the communicative environment stimulates lack or even absence of communicative responsiveness in the first place (Gluck et al., 2020). Having taken these aspects into consideration, it may be concluded that a sensitive period of children’s development is a highly significant stage of one’s cognition formation. Hence, it is highly advised children be properly supervised and stimulated at a young age in order to initiate efficient neural connections in their brains.
Social Learning Theory
The history of Bandura’s social learning theory has come a long way from placing positive or negative reinforcement as a central learning motivational tool to embracing observation as a pillar for social learning (Gluck et al., 2020). Hence, currently, the premise of social learning theory embraces the fact that humans tend to imitate certain behavior through observation and a certain stimulus. There are four fundamental processes that are used to justify one’s motivation to imitate specific behavior, namely:
- The presence of a model
- Accessible format
- The ability to reproduce the action
- Motivation for reproducing (Gluck et al., 2020, p. 443)
Hence, when encouraging a learning environment according to this theory, the components of accessibility and motivation play a fundamental role. For example, when teaching somebody how to dance, it would be inefficient to introduce a subject to dancing with the help of complicated pirouettes or ballet combinations, as the subject would have no motivation to imitate this behavior knowing perfectly well that they are physically unable to perform it. Instead, while serving as a model, a dancing teacher should perform a movement combination that is engaging, rhythmic, and easy to imitate, such as a combination of dancing steps accompanied by upbeat music. After seeing these movements repeated a couple of times, the subject will perceive the combination as a relatively easy one, manifesting the ability to reproduce the action. Afterward, they will be motivated for reproduction, as they will be genuinely interested in how well they can perform. Hence, when initiating a context for learning, it is of paramount importance to critically assess one’s potential willingness to imitate the activity.
Gluck, M. A., Mercado, E., & Myers, C. E. (2020). Learning and memory: From brain to behavior (4th ed.). Macmillan International.