Learning can happen at every stage of our lives. However, the way we learn transitions throughout our lives. Our brain changes with time, and so does our environment. In each stage of our life, physical and environmental factors affect our learning. Keep on reading to learn about these factors, so you can keep learning throughout your life.
- Sleep – Sleep has a direct and immediate effect on learning. It is very crucial to memory, judgment, and insight, that it should be taken into consideration in any educational or creative project plan.
- Exercise – Exercise enhances mood, as well as psychological functions like decision-making, which promotes learning and the application of what is learned. Aerobic, strength, and balance exercises like yoga and tai chi are all beneficial.
- Heart-Healthy Diet – Several studies have shown that a diet that is healthy for the heart also improves cognitive functions, especially in later life.
- Support for physical and mental health – An environment that does not support well-being can diminish a person’s capacity to learn. Basic environmental needs include healthy food, space and time for exercise and sleep, health care, social norms that promote healthy habits, and practical help as needed.
- Opportunities for mastery – It is through opportunities for mastery that one can understand that being helpless or confused when faced with new challenges can be overcome to achieve competency. This means that a healthy learning environment should provide plenty and diverse opportunities for individuals with opportunities to experience mastery.
- Safety to fail – Everyone begins at awkwardness before achieving mastery. It’s part of learning to get something wrong at the first few tries, take too long to do things, forget key concepts, or make poor choices. According to studies, if a person who does these “mistakes” is punished or embarrassed, their learning will be hindered. On the other hand, a healthy learning environment removes the shame or disgrace that comes with these mistakes, and even celebrates them as part of genuine learning.
Keep reading to learn how to make good use of these factors at each stage of life.
Early Adulthood (15–25)
Most people recall moments from this cognitively blooming decade when asked about the most important events in their lives. Moments from this decade are extraordinarily important and emotionally vivid. This is because the adolescent brain is evolving and developing nearly as fast as in babyhood.
During this decade, important choices are made about education, career, relationships, and ideologies, which all have a significant impact on future opportunities to learn.
A 15-year-old can think abstractly, analyze scenarios, consider different perspectives, plan long-term actions, and make judgments between right and wrong on their own. A person this age can process new information more quickly than an adult. However, a 15-year-old still lacks wisdom due to little life experience, and their brain is not yet fully developed. The part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for a series of processes considered as “executive function” only becomes fully mature at about age 25.
The behavior of adolescents is characterized by three things: seeking new things, taking risks, and intense connection with their peer groups. These behaviors, called “Teen Triad”, are seen in all social mammals, and are crucial to learning. However, they can also pose a great risk to present and future learning opportunities. That is why during early adulthood, it’s crucial to take the risks that will enhance possibilities of future learning instead of blocking them.
The most necessary risk to take is the failure that comes with learning. Failing is particularly upsetting for early adults. It can lead them to a tendency to maintain an image that may compromise true learning.
Emerging Adulthood (25–45)
The brain is physically fully developed in adulthood. Life at this stage of life is more structured by social norms, individual life choices, and experiences. Some people are first-time parents, while those in their 40s are already grandparents. A 30-year-old may be beginning a career in medicine, while one may already be retiring from a career in sports.
Compared to other life stages, people in midlife are busier and have more social roles (like being a spouse, parent, worker, student, or committee member). There are increasing life transitions at this stage due to changes in career, family life, physical health, and more.
Fortunately, people at this life stage are at the peak of their youth and age. Their behavior is no longer as risky as it was in their youth. In terms of health, their immune system is strong, and they have low risks of cancer and heart disease. Most emerging adults are at the peak of their skills and have had sufficient education, and have developed real expertise in certain fields.
Much of the learning at this life stage come from life experiences rather than study. That is why emerging adults must make the necessary effort to absorb and reflect on the lessons brought by their experiences.
Established Adulthood (45-60)
There is a general slowing down at this stage. But while memory and processing speed are not as fast as they were in earlier years, the wisdom and accumulated knowledge through experiences are very high, which may even prove to be more useful in real-life situations.
Aging successfully means you’ve figured out how to “work smart” through pattern recognition, extensive experience, external help, and networks. At this point, the healthy habits, various relationships, expertise, and self-awareness you accumulated in the earlier stages of your life, start to matter.
Do what you can do well, but still be open to trying new things, taking risks, and failing. If you don’t get out of your comfort zone at this age, that zone will naturally diminish. Be wary of being fooled by your wisdom, and make room for failure.
Late Adulthood (60+)
Aging can cause a natural decline in attention, memory, reasoning, and the brain’s overall executive function.
Motivations also change in late adulthood. People in this stage of life are no longer driven by novelty. However, those who remain open to learning new skills and processing new information experience less cognitive decline than those who do not. These learnings do not need to be academic or professional, as people at this stage are more motivated by personal and emotional goals than achievements.
This shift in motivation is also evident in the workplace, where later adults are more focused on finding meaning and practicing sociability than on money or status. The challenge for late adults is to cut back on commitment and roles and combine them as much as possible.
Continual learning is good for the physical, mental, and social aspects of our life. It is not the only thing we do for a lifetime, but so is learning to learn. The brain changes from decade to decade, and so do your priorities, social roles, and physical health. Each phase comes with new challenges, as well as new advantages. Through it all, the fact that anyone can get better at anything will never change, and that failure is the only cost of the improvement. Want more tips like this? Subscribe to Newsweek today! We provide thought-provoking coverage of the issues that are transforming the modern world. Message us at Discount Press today to subscribe to Newsweek.