Brief note on Learning versus Maturational Changes

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Learning is a process related to (a) change in behavior or behavior potential, (b) that is relatively permanent, and (c) is brought about by experience/practice. Learning of a specific nature can take place only when the child is maturationally ready.

Maturation is a process of biological growth and development. Maturation is the unfolding of the genetic code that is biologically predetermined patterns of behavior. As the human child grows, he undergoes many physical changes. These changes bring associated changes in behavior. Such changes are the results of maturation, not learning. To be able to crawl, sit, stand and walk are mostly the results of maturation. But learning to crawl on a path, to sit on a fence, to walk on a rope, and to talk eloquently are acquired through practice and experience. Hence, such behavioral changes are attributed to learning.

It is difficult to separate the influence of maturation and learning, as most of our behaviors are combined products of both learning and maturation. Both interact in producing behavioral changes. Maturation provides a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for learning to occur. Similarly, learning also helps in accelerating the maturational process. Without training and experience, the maturational process will be stunted.

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Let us take an example to explain the interacting nature of learning and maturation. A 7-8 year old child is not maturationally ready to carry on formal abstract thinking. Even if, expert instructors give him extensive training on Grade 10 geometry, he would hardly benefit, if he is given the same instruction at 13-15 years of age, he will be benefited as he would be maturationally ready by then. But maturation alone, without necessary instructions, will not help him. A 5-6 year old is matured enough to read and write, which of course; he will not be able to do without training. Training imparted when the child is maturationally ready results in learning.

Learning also helps the maturational process. As a 4-year old learns to write alphabets, his muscular coordination matures. As a result, his handwriting looks better. Both maturation and learning are so intimately connected that it is difficult to examine the influence of one independent of the other.

Research has shown that the age range of 4-5 years is developmentally appropriate for teaching handwriting. Teaching handwriting to children before they are maturationally ready may result in faulty muscular coordination, and later on, in poor handwriting. Similarly, toilet training given before 2 years of age is of little consequence, as the child is not maturationally ready to take in the experience. These examples show that maturation is important for learning.

When the child is maturationally ready, his learning depends upon the opportunity for practice and experience, his interest and motivation. Training before an appropriate maturational stage may result in frustration and withdrawal of interest from learning of a skill. Parents and teachers should ensure maturational readiness on the part of the learner before they attempt to teach him any new form of mental or physical skill.

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