How Students' Maturity Levels Impact Learning

Instructor: Caroline DaSilva
This lesson provides an overview of cognitive and social maturity, and how they affect the success of learners of all ages. It covers related relevant research and offers helpful suggestions for addressing learner maturity in the classroom.

Maturity Matters

Consider this - You have a classroom full of students who are about the same age. Does this mean that they are equally ready to learn a particular concept, skill, or idea? The surprising answer is, probably not. While it is fair to say that age is typically a measure of maturity, age and maturity are not necessarily the same thing, especially when it comes to learners. Maturity plays a major role in student success.

What do we mean by maturity? Generally, the term refers to the changes and development in the brain structure as well as in the rest of the human body. Maturity is a measure of using good judgment, understanding cause and effect, being able to associate what you are doing now with the results of your actions later, and other thought processes that go along with reasonable and acceptable behavior. Maturity plays a role in a person's ability to accept responsibility for his or her own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It affects their ability to keep track of his or her thinking and in this case, to control the various emotions they may experience in a learning situation. Maturity governs personal responsibility, shared communication, openness to new ideas, and ability to find solutions to problems. Teachers already know that it is directly relatable to emotional control and reasoning, too. There are many different types of maturity, and we will address two important ones here.

  • Cognitive maturity is related to how we think. It can be defined as the way our brains develop: how we process knowledge, abstract concepts, our ability to recognize and analyze, language learning, and more. We now know that the brain is plastic - it changes with experience and development. Evidence shows that rather than ending development at childhood, brain development continues into our twenties and even until age 25 for some. Individuals' brains develop at different rates and are affected by both genetic and environmental influences.
  • Social maturity is a measure of how a person relates to friends, family, co-workers and the society in which they live. Social maturity progresses and develops in successive stages just as cognitive maturity does, moving people from the simplest understanding of the world around them to a more thorough grasp of the social world we live in. Not surprisingly, social maturity increases with age, but not always.

Learning Readiness

It is important for teachers to understand that how the brain develops influences maturity, and by extension, learning readiness. For teachers, this is especially important when selecting which instructional strategies to use when designing lessons. Recent educational research indicates that cognitive maturity, and by extension, age- do matter when it comes to choosing either a deep or surface learning approach. A deep learning approach includes learner engagement and self- motivation, a shallow approach relies on faster approaches to the material. Deep learning usually results in better outcomes. More mature students have been shown to be more likely to adopt a deep learning approach and less likely to adopt a surface approach.

In order to achieve the best possible learning outcomes, teachers need to go a little deeper. They'll need to be able to evaluate students' levels of cognitive development across different domains, as well as determine how they best process information. They should ask themselves, 'What are my students' areas of strength?' Only then can teachers start to begin to develop appropriate learning experiences, schedule and pace their instruction, and provide learning content in ways that truly match their learners' abilities and learning styles.

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