The Difference Between Child and Adult Learning

By Janet Kampen dipWSET


How did you study when you were a child? Had you practiced listening skills with a teacher? Or recall fun learning games, assigned reading, or a task filling out a handout or workbook for homework? And do you recall your study habits as a teenager? Perhaps, highlighting your textbook, practicing problem sets, and cramming for tests with notecards and your notes the night before and morning of the test? 

But here’s the big question: Are you still doing any of these methods of studying in your current wine certification course? 

For many students, there is a sense of security in defaulting to what worked for us as children or teenagers in school. Often, as adults these default methods of studying or cramming don’t work as well as they used to, especially the longer you’ve been away from formalized education. 

Our adult brains are different than our child or adolescent brain; we’re more mature. Children are like sponges; they soak up the world around them. Their minds are exceptionally malleable and able to form neural connections easily and rapidly (called high neuroplasticity). As we age through our teens and early twenties our ability to form new neural connections slows year by year. 

…the way you studied as a child likely isn’t the most effective way for you to study for your wine certifications.

You may have heard the old adage that a brain is not fully mature until the age of 25. This is true, give or take a year or two. What it really means is that the brain has ‘settled in’ to its ways of thinking and doesn’t form new neural connections as easily (low neuroplasticity). This difference is one of the most significant reasons that educational psychologists and learning scientists separate childhood education theories and practices (pedagogy) from adult education (andragogy).

Unfortunately, what this means is that the way you studied as a child likely isn’t the most effective way for you to study for your wine certifications. Highlighting the book, taking notes that are almost word-for-word what the textbook says or making outlines, making hundreds of flashcards, attending class or watching lecture videos once or twice, then cramming right before the exam are common ways we see many students studying. 

Live webinars, tastings and activities will help you use information you get from reading and studying course material.
Live webinars, tastings and activities will help you use information you get from reading and studying course material.

But is that really how adults learn best when our brains struggle more than children to learn new information or skills?

Think back to the last time you started a new job. You had to quickly orient yourself to a new environment, a new system or communication style, maybe learn new software or equipment. Likely you had some training, and the first few days or weeks were a lot to take in to get comfortable. At what point did you start feeling comfortable and confident in your ability to do the job and how did you get to that point? 

If you’re like me, there were aspects of the job you picked up right away—things you’d done before at another job—while other tasks required more of your time. But it wasn’t really more time you needed—it was more practice, more repetition of that task to build your confidence. 

You could understand the process and memorize all the steps, but it took a while to get confident in performing the task.

Let’s apply this to your wine studies. Reading the book, taking notes, filling out charts, and doing homework with feedback from your instructor are great methods to understand the material. 

Flashcards, interactive quizzes, and other memory aids help you memorize the content by letting you practice recalling the information, often from your short-term memory. Don’t just stop there though! You need to perform the task repeatedly in the way you will actually use the information.

In the case of a wine certification exam, the most immediate way you will use the information is on the test: multiple-choice questions, short-written answer questions, and writing tasting notes. The key takeaway is that repeated, deliberate performance of these tasks will cement your knowledge into your long-term memory and give you the confidence to perform well on the exam.

Of course, it’s not all about the exam. Once you pass it with your newfound confidence the real fun begins. You can start performing the tasks you really want to use the knowledge for repeatedly, whether that’s wine writing, educating others, buying or selling wine, signing up for the next level of education to reach your goals, or exploring the world of wine with curiosity one bottle at a time.

Speaking of learning – check out our new supplemental learning resources – available to ALL WSET STUDENTS – regardless of school – for a nominal fee. Click on an image to learn more.

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