You might've heard that children learn faster than adults. That children's brains are more flexible and have higher neuroplasticity.
Most of us accept this without challenge, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
Children and adults learn new things at similar rates, and adults are more effective learners overall.
🗣 Research shows that adults learn languages to fluency nearly as well as children, given the same amount of practice1. It's less common to learn a language from age 20 to 40 –– but those who do reach similar fluency to those who learn from age 5 to 25. Children usually spend much more time learning.
📚 Reading speed & comprehension –– a direct measure of learning ability –– steadily increases with age2
🃏 Spaced repetition, a learning technique designed to optimize our brains time to learn, doesn't work as well for young children3 e.g. Anki, which is used mostly by med-school students & adults learning languages.
😤 Kids can be stubborn or rebellious, undergo hormonal changes, among many other variables, which interfere with their ability & desire to learn.
The benefit children have is minor in most cases (a few percentage points, not a factor of 2) and that advantage is often outweighed by other factors.
Imagine these two:
(1) A child who just began reading books at a 3rd grade level.
(2) A college-graduate adult who has studied higher level english, math, and sciences in university.
It should be obvious, if you compared these two in many learning tasks,
- .. like reading an article, understanding a new formula, or learning quantum physics.
The adult would outperform the child and learn faster, with less time spent on the basics.
From some of the sources cited above and personal experimentation, I believe this extends into learning physical tasks as well.
🍎 You usually can't compare kids learning apples-to-apples with adults. Children focus on learning basic skills like how to write & read, which is a more fundamental learning, albeit less advanced, than understanding a complex math concept.
🏃 Kids learn fast and automatically. Unlike adults who require focused attention to learn.
📊 New information for children is a higher % of their overall knowledge, this requires more time & flexibility with so much further to go from their starting point.
🤔 Adults, on the other hand, have more pre-existing knowledge and a more developed brain to easily integrate new information.
- An opsimath (greek roots opsi → late, and math → study) is a term for someone who learns later in life.
Once a negative term, the discouraging bias against adult learning doesn't make make sense when analyzed.
Adults are, overall, better learners than children.
Consider learning something new, you can become better than a vast majority of people in any area with enough time.