Lifelong Education. A Psychological Analysis by A. J. Cropley

By A. J. Cropley

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All types of growth go forward relatively steadily and rapidly during the first 18 or 20 years then, rather quickly, all stop together". Other estimates of the ages at which the peak functioning of intellectual ability occurs have ranged from 13 (Doll), to 14 1/2 (Dearborn), to 15 or 16 (Binet, Kuhlmann, Terman, Otis) and right through the intervening ages to as high as 40 (Heinis). Bayley (1955) reported increases in abilities up to the age of 21, Wechsler (1958) placed the upper limit of growth at between 25 and 30, and Bayley and Oden (1955) concluded that the upper limit is not reached until about age 50.

It is least marked, or even not present at all, in tests of vocabulary and arithmetic. More recent findings by Learning throughout Life 57 Schaie and Labouvie-Vief (1974) also reported that arithmetic and word meaning skills persisted until at least the mid-50s. Finally, Havighurst (1969, p. 60) concluded that there is a fall-off in performance on tasks requiring speed and high levels of perceptual skills, but that there is no similar falloff in tasks requiring experience and "know-how", or on those requiring vocabulary.

This argument supports the view that education should be lifelong, since it implies that new approaches to problems need to be adopted with advancing age, and not that problems become insoluble as age increases. Indeed, there is a good deal of evidence (reviewed in a later section) which shows that even the elderly are capable of school-like learning under appropriate instructional conditions. That intellect functions in qualitatively different ways at differing ages does not, then, suggest that learning should necessarily slow down beyond school age, but, rather, that opportunities to learn should be patterned according to the changing nature of intellectual abilities.

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