Thursday, February 08, 2007

Old Dogs and New Tricks

Researchers from Georgia provide some reasons why it may be hard to teach some of us old dogs new tricks - when younger and older age test subjects were compared, age differences didn't have too much effect on memory for a list of word pairs until the trials used a large list of related, but not-mentioned words as distractors. It was in this setting that older people had a harder time calling up the words they had seen.

This is kind of interesting - and would fit with the idea of why it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. It's not that he can't learn anything new, it's that his old tricks act as competitive distractions while he's trying to learn something new.

So rather than looking at this situation as simply being a negative indictment of the old dog, maybe there could also be some negative indictment of the new? Rather than seeing the results as a triumph of young test-takers over old, maybe we should consider whether the young could be disadvantaged by not facing competition from old outside knowledge.

Let's think about this. Maybe younger adults are less likely to let outside knowledge intrude on current learning scenarios? This might mean college students who fail to question what they learn in a class or what they are being told in a specific testing situation. Would a college-educated 30 year old, 40 year old, or 50 year old be more likely to question or bring in outside knowledge in a classroom or test-taking situation?

Closing thoughts -If you're older, may be it's a good idea think about letting go of some of old knowledge or tricks if you really want to learn something new. And if you're younger, it may be wise not to pursue new tricks so singlemindedly that you fail to consider what you already know.

Memory: Older Adults Know They Can't Let Go pdf

HT: Thanks, John, for passing along this research study.

Tags: , , , , , ,

1 comment:

  1. Interesting research. You always have such great content here that I don't see anywhere else, and I appreciate all your work.

    I have written about this research in the context of school change and helping teachers adapt to technology on my blog, Experiencing E-Learning. Check it out if you're interested.