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Intelligence and Adult Development

Perspectives on adult learning have changed dramatically over the decades. Adult learning has been viewed as a process of being freed from the oppression of being illiterate, a means of gaining knowledge and skills, a way to satisfy learner needs, and a process of critical self-reflection that can lead to transformation. The phenomenon of adult learning is complex and difficult to capture in any one definition.” From: Cranton, P. (1994). Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 3.

Well, there you have it folks–yet another area of adult education that is difficult to define! As you well know, the area of adult learning is extremely broad. The information in this section will certainly not do justice to all of the information that has been published on this subject. What you will find here are some of the main points that are examined in ADE 5385 (Adult Learning). As usual, check your list of readings from this class for a fuller picture of what adult learning includes.

What is Intelligence?

There are many definitions and theories of intelligence and how it can or should be measured, “Intelligence has been most often studies from the psychometric tradition which assumes that it is a measurable construct” (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999, p. 170). But there are other views as well; information processing, contextual perspectives, and practical intelliegence. There are many questions to ask ourselves about intelligence:

  • Does intelligence exist?
  • Can intelligence be measured? If so, how? And what do we gain by measuring it?
  • Does intelligence consist of a single factor or several factors?
  • Are there different kinds of intelligence?
  • Are we born with a certain “level” of intelligence or do we develop this (or lose this) as we mature?
  • What role does culture play in intelligence–how could it affect how we measure intelligence?

Below are brief explanations of several well-known theories of intelligence. Caffarella, R. & Merriam, S. (1999). Learning in Adulthood 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Intelligence and Aging

Does our intelligence keep increasing as we age? Merriam and Caffarella have this to say: “Whether adults lose their intellectual abilities as they age is still open to question for a number of reasons, including a lack of consistent research methodologies and tools. The most common response is to this important issue is that adult intelligence appears relatively stable, at least until the sixth or seventh decade. If a decline in functioning does exist, it appears to apply primarily to the maximum versus average levels of functioning. In reflecting on the issue of aging and intelligence, remember that myths promote powerful images, whether the myth is grounded in fact or fiction. It has been difficult for educators and researchers alike to give up the stereotype that young equals sharp and older means dull.” (1991, p. 158)

Learning Processes and Aging

Physical and cognitive changes that take place as we age are important to note because they can have an affect on our learning:

  • Older learners have slower reaction times than younger learners. We need more time to learn new things as we age, however, when adults can control the pace of learning, they can often effectively compensate for their lack of speed and learn new things successfully.(1981)
  • Vision generally declines from the age of 18 to 40. After 40 there is a sharp decline for the next 15 years, but after age 55 the decline in vision occurs at a slower rate. (1981)
  • Around age 70 our hearing begins to decline sharply and we begin experiencing problems with pitch, volume, and rate of response. Loss of hearing can be compensated for through the use of hearing aids, but often older learners may be embarrassed by their hearing loss and feel less confident. This decline in confidence can become a greater hindrance to learning than the physical disability. (1981)
  • Few changes have been found in both sensory and short-term memory as we age, but long term memory declines. Older adults have a harder time acquiring and retrieving information and they experience difficulties in organizing new material and in processing it. Older adults are not as able as younger learners in tests of recall, but the differences between older and younger learners in tests of recognition are small or nonexistent. (1991)
  • When contextual learning approaches are used, less decline is found in the memory process as we age.(1991)
  • The greatest problems with memory for older learners occur with meaningless learning, complex learning, and the learning of new things that require reassessment of old learning. (1991)

Knowledge Inc.

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