Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Nature vs Nurture debate

This morning there was an interesting article on the BBC website about research into how much our genes influence our learning ( . The research suggests that our genetic disposition does play a very important role in the learning process, strengthening the case for "personalised learning".

I had been thinking about this question a couple of weeks ago after quite a profound experience. It was my niece's 21st Birthday party and at one point I saw my sister writing something down. I noticed that she was holding her pen in an unusual way - the same way that I hold my pen, with my thumb and two fingers above, resting on my 3rd and 4th fingers. I have always held pens and pencils like this and thought that I had just "learnt wrong" when I was a small child. Everyone else seemed to hold theirs with their 1st finger above, resting on their other 3 fingers. I was fascinated - I asked my dad to write something and amazingly he held his pen the same way, and then I asked my nephew...again the same way.

I was really blown away by how something like this could have remained invisible to me my whole life and I immediately started thinking of the implications for learning. Genetic traits might lead to seemingly obvious examples such as the way someone holds a pen (but even I didn't notice this) but what about psychological and other less physical examples? My dad, sister and nephew are all quite different from me externally but how do I know if there are key genetic traits that run through the way that we all have gone about learning  - what else might we share? Are there other things that I think I may have learned "wrong" that are actually quirks of my genes and so I am predisposed to following a particular learning pathway?

I'm not sure how this relates to the #CCK11 course but for me it is something that has to influence learning therefore there must be a connection - I just need to find it. My initial thoughts are (purely specutively I stress!) that from a Connectivist perspective certain genetic traits may be realised in our brains through a favouring of certain neural pathways - and these become early nodes in our emerging learning network.

If anyone has any thoughts on the matter that would be great. Also if anyone has had similar experiences or knows of any neuroscientific research in this area I would be very interested to know.


"DNA Molecule Display" used under CC licence by net_efekt


  1. I'm reminded of left-handedness and the discrimination suffered by left-handers. A left-handed friend tells me how difficult she found learning to write in a Canadian school in the 1950s because all the desks had arm rests on the wrong side - for her! Worse still, an African friend, at around the same time, was forced to convert to right-handedness, "even for throwing stones!" The educational disadvantages suffered by either may be quite difficult to assess but it does show how the educational wisdom of a time can be anything but.

    Gordon Lockhart

  2. I agree Gordon - I was wondering what might have changed if I had been forced to write "the correct way", which luckily I wasn't. As you say I think it would be difficult to assess.