I have always been fascinated by the way in which children learn. We know that the majority of children’s learning is done without them even knowing, almost by accident, and this learning is simply part of growing up and watching others around you. You don’t need to sit a child down and teach them the English language or how to walk or talk, for example. Nevertheless, I think that we underestimate the strength of this implicit learning.
During a recent visit to family in Norfolk, I was enjoying playing with one of their young children, aged just four years old. The task in hand was to attach stickers of tractors and diggers over their silhouetted shapes in a book. The little boy was very good at recognising the shapes, which were not basic – even I had to double check whether there was a funnel or shovel differentiating one sticker and silhouette from another! However it wasn’t this that impressed me most. On attachment of the fourth sticker it touched down on the paper a little prematurely, creasing the sticker and getting stuck slightly off its silhouette. I was amazed when the little boy cried ‘oh man!’ in a really cute American accent! I later discovered from his parents that Swiper the Fox from Dora the Explorer uses this phrase. What fascinated me was how the little boy had learnt to correctly place the saying in context – as I’m sure Swiper the Fox has never aired showing how to apply stickers in a sticker book.
This way of learning can and does take place in adults too. I am not at all fluent in Italian and only know the odd word or two. However, when I went over there and stayed for two weeks I seemed to be able to speak random words that I have never been taught, but that I had obviously picked up from listening into conversations, reading signs and so on whilst I was there. It reminds me that this implicit learning that we are so quick to recognise in children also takes place in adults. How do we ensure that we apply it to our e-leaning and exploit this fantastic natural learning?