Giving People a Leg Up

June 2013

I got to thinking about what makes a good learner and I came up with the following simple quartet.

People learn at different rates depending on their:

— aggregate study

— frequency of study

— aptitude

— motivation

These I feel are the four factors that make up a learner. In this case the question: ‘How can we increase each of these to create better students?’ may be the central proposition of our work as language teachers.

Something to ponder anyway…

Notice which one is the odd one out?

Aptitude is the only factor that cannot be changed. Or maybe it can by acquisition of cognitive means, strategies, etc, to improve how you learn. That could make up part of one’s aptitude. Maybe this learned part of aptitude actually belongs under the other three factors, particularly aggregate study. But in my mind, aptitude is the other side of the nature-nurture coin, and that comes from the neural functioning of the brain and this represents the traits you are born with.

As such, if we take the idea that aptitude is the factor that often we can do least about, then we would do well perhaps to admit that pigeon-holing or stigmatising weak learners, or assigning intelligence types to them, is really not the easiest or most helpful way of developing them. But instead when we do, as we always do, meet weak learners, we would all be better off consciously focusing on enhancing the other three factors to make inroads toward cancelling out inherent disadvantages.