Windows of Super Learning Opportunity
“During your life, windows of super learning opportunity open at specific times, thus allowing you amass information and wisdom at a phenomenally accelerated rate.”
– JW Wilson, Advanced Learning Institute
Although the environment is all powerful in directing the learning process (see “The Environment Is Everything to Increasing Your Adaptability/Intelligence Factor“), in this Element we will discover that there are special super-learning periods in our lifetime when the speed and capacity that we can select information into our brain structures from our environment dramatically increases. These super windows open for all of our 11 biological intelligences: kinesthetic, tactile, taste/smell, visual, audio, spatial, musical, linguistic, mathematical, emotional-internal, and emotional-social.
The good thing about these windows of learning opportunity is that, when they are open and we get the correct environmental stimuli at the correct times, our ability to increase our individual ability to adapt (Adaptability/Intelligence Factor) is spectacularly accelerated. The bad thing is that, when these windows close, they close forever. If we have not received the correct environmental stimuli at the correct time, sadly our ability to ever reach our full potential can be severely limited.
Read on to learn more about windows of super learning opportunity
A century ago, the father of developmental psychology, Jean Piaget, introduced the idea that the brain passes through stages of development in a specific order. Today the worlds of neuroscience and genetics have confirmed and refined Piaget’s theory. We now know that a genetic time clock provides for the rapid development of specific brain areas in a specific order. We crawl before we walk and walk before we run. We babble before we speak two-word phrases and speak two-word phrases before we say whole sentences. We get peripheral vision at birth, binocular vision at seven months, and 20/20 vision around 7 years old. And, as Piaget pointed out, we grasp concrete concepts (at ages 7-11) before we can understand abstract ones (after 11). To help us quickly adapt to the world we are born into, most of these developmental super-learning periods unfold in childhood, but new neurological evidence shows that even later in life a developmental stage begins to open in our fourth decade as genes lay down the neural material that provides us with our capacity for wisdom.
Regulatory Genes Open and Close Learning Windows
Research reveals that special genes called regulatory genes are what drive the opening and closing of super learning windows of opportunity. During our lifetime, special regulatory genes are preprogrammed to tell other genes when to turn on and off. When regulatory genes turn on specific genes in brain areas that deal with traits such as vision, hearing, language, movement, music, social interaction, and emotions, it allows for phenomenally rapid learning in these brain areas. When regulatory genes tell certain genes to turn off, the opportunity for accelerated learning ceases.
Throughout the time regulatory genes are performing their magic on other genes, the activity of a whole host of neurotransmitters that support learning, such as dopamine and glutamate, are prompted to dramatically increase their activity, some by as much as 225 percent. This timed increase in the activity of these learning neurochemicals facilitates the massive neural firing between cells and the blowing out of magnesium plugs from NMDA receptors, which is instrumental in the process of creating long-term memory (see “What Is Learning?“).
When these genetic windows are open, the increased neural activity allows us to learn at rates and capacities that can never be matched after these windows shut. As an example, from the ages of 18 months to 6 years, regulatory genes switch on genes in a child’s language center. When turned on, these genes help produce so much massive neural activity that the child has the capacity to select into his long-term memory a new word every two hours. This super-linguistic learning window provides that, by the time the child is 3 years old, he will be fluent in understanding his mother tongue, and by 6 years old he will have amassed an amazing 13,000-word vocabulary, as well as the capacity to grasp syntax and all the basic rules of grammar.
When super-learning periods close and regulatory genes turn off the genes that are producing massive neural activity, not only does accelerated learning cease, but if the brain has not yet received the correct environmental stimuli by this time, it loses the chance to ever develop that trait to its fullest capacity. If an individual fails to receive the correct environmental stimuli when super learning windows are open for acquiring motor, visual, audio, language, musical, social, and emotional networks, these networks will never develop completely. Bind our legs too long before we turn 4 and we will never learn to walk smoothly. Limit the visual feedback from the environment before we turn 4 and we will never be able to see clearly. Limit our ability to hear language before the age of 3 and we will never fully develop the ability to speak correctly. The closing of linguistic windows early in life is why it is so hard to learn a second language later. Also consider that, if a child with a primary musical intelligence is never allowed to play an instrument or refine her singing abilities before she is 8 years old, she will never ever be able to develop the ability of perceiving perfect pitch.
Quality Environments Important in Childhood
Because the majority of our super learning windows are open in the earlier years of our life, the quality of the stimuli that we receive in childhood has a more profound effect on our future actions and behaviors than at any other time in our lives. The reason that these windows exist in the first place is so that we can very quickly and successfully adapt to our environment. If we are born into violent and abusive environments when these super-learning windows are wide open, it only makes sense that we will super learn how to be violent and abusive. As neurobiologist Lise Eliot points out in her book What’s Going On in There?, “While genes program the sequence of neural development, at every turn the quality of that development is shaped by environmental factors.” If you are born into a world where your mother was on welfare, you will super learn how to live a life on welfare (see “The Environment Is Everything to Increasing Your Adaptability/Intelligence Factor“).
While our brain remains malleable throughout our lives, it will never again be as flexible and adaptable as when these super-learning windows are wide open. This is why it can take years of psychological and spiritual work in adulthood to heal the negative networks that were laid down in our childhoods. Dr. Myron Hofer, psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, commented on children who have been raised in the war-torn Balkans. “If you grow up in battle-torn Yugoslavia, you may become impulsive, aggressive and you won’t want to get close to anyone. … You will be beautifully suited to fight a 500-year war in Europe.”
In the book Cracking the Learning Code and in future newsletters you will discover:
Why educational program designers need to be acutely aware of which window of super-learning opportunity a student is going through in order create the most effective learning programs.
Why, specifically, if an individual has not received critical information at correct times in his maturation, he is left on the wrong side of the window of opportunity and can never develop normally.
Why, to be fluent in a foreign language without an accent, you must be exposed to that language before your super window of language acquisition closes.
Which specific brain areas code for specific traits, such as locomotion, vision, speech, bonding, and socialization, and the times they open and close.
That our scientific awareness of windows of super-learning opportunity has come from a history of sad experiences of children deprived of the correct stimulation at the correct time in their lives – wolf children raised in the wild, children raised in abusive homes, and babies raised in orphanages.
That studies reveal children who do not receive appropriate emotional stimulation at the proper time have retarded synaptual growth and do not produce the molecules, called tropic factors, that allow them to develop normal emotional maturation.
That children raised in homes that lack love can have brain regions that are 30 percent smaller than children raised in loving homes.
How your brain carves out old connections, which are not being used, in a process called neural pruning.
How neural pruning can cause you to lose synapses at the rate of 20 billion a day.
How neural pruning increases your brain’s efficiency but limits its potential.
How this subtraction of neural tissue can lock you, as an adult, into repeating negative behaviors that you witnessed as a child.
That synapses demand stimulation, and the lack of stimulation is what spells their demise.
How the process called neural Darwinism can lock you into repeating actions and behaviors that do not serve you.
How David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel demonstrated neural Darwinism and won a Nobel Prize for sewing kittens’ eyes shut during their super windows for vision, which confirmed that the animals could never learn to see normally.
Why pruning and neural Darwinism can be blamed for a lot of the social and territorial conflict in the world.
How pruning and neural Darwinism insured that Michael Jordan would have a very difficult time in his efforts to play professional baseball in his 30s.
Why Mozart and Yo-Yo Ma became such super artists.
Why parents and children can love each other but can never completely understand one another.
That you have a super window for wisdom and when it opens up.
Why you can do more in-depth and profound thinking in your later years.
That it is a fallacy that your memory gets worse as you age.