If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn. — Ignacio ‘Nacho Click To Tweet

readinessAccording to Thorndike, when a child is not ready to learn, he or she cannot be forced to learn. Proper attention to individual motivation is paramount for an instructor to essentially “know their audience.” Combining readiness and exercise can create substantial progress in learning for students of any discipline or beginning skill level.

Law Of Exercise

And Readiness In Teaching


Dr. Edward Thorndike, a nineteenth century psychologist who helped lay the foundation for modern educational psychology developed the laws of readiness and exercise that remain valid and necessary to achieving improvement in study. Simply put, the law of readiness states that learning takes places when an individual is ready to learn. This has to do with desire and motivation. Essentially forcing someone to learn something will not achieve the desired result. This has to do with individual
motivation within the student. For an instructor, this is a large obstacle to overcome, especially in a classroom of many people with their own unique sets of circumstances. It has to do with knowing one’s audience and tailoring a lesson accordingly. As stated, when the numbers of students can vary, this can be quite challenging.

The Doctor also states that when someone is ready to perform a certain act, to do so is satisfying. Inversely, when they are not ready to perform and are forced to act, it is annoying.

Think of when a teacher or parent forced you into a certain mode of behavior, and you didn’t want to do it. You were annoyed and possibly resentful and felt it was a threat to your individuality. Perhaps you acted accordingly out of fear, but there is a good possibility that the result was not as good as it could have been had you wanted to do so. From an instructor’s point of view, the 1960s Disney classic film Mary Poppins is a great example of this theory in action. Mary Poppins was the nanny of two young children who, as most kids, tested the limits of rules and structure. In one particular scene, she tasked them with the assignment of cleaning a dirty bedroom. This was met with annoyance and defiance, as they did not desire to do so. As Mary was an expert in molding children, she made the task a game. When even a mundane task like cleaning can be made fun, the motivation to comply manifests and the student actually enjoys the once spiritless activity. Readiness to learn is necessary to achieve a desired effect, where one decisively wants to put their “best foot forward.”

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When the law of exercise is incorporated with the previous law of readiness, improvement in learning can be substantial.
The law of exercise simply states that drill or practice helps in increasing efficiency and durability of learning.
At its core, this lends itself to the adage “practice makes perfect.” He goes on to call it the law of use and misuse. Essentially, if one works out at the gym, repetitively over time, the muscle gets stronger. However, the inverse is also true. A muscle will atrophy or weaken from misuse.

This law does not take into account the individual student’s skill level when first taking on a new task. All things being equal, when a new skill is learned for the first time, the majority of people have difficulty on day one. We will leave out natural ability and stick to the law of exercise for now.

When you first learn to ride a bike, your dad had to hold onto the back and offer encouragement as you weren’t ready for the Tour de France on the first attempt. You had to practice, fall off, and scrape the dirt from your knees a hundred times over until you could ride successfully. Through repetition and consistency, your level of ability improved over time. With an undertaking, these principles along with readiness are required are paramount to achievement.

When I bought a car as a teenager from a friend, I had forgotten that the car was a five speed manual transmission. My enthusiasm to acquire the new car overshadowed my rational thinking. I did not know how to drive a stick shift but my desire to learn immediately was obvious. When my mother took me out that afternoon, the car jumped, stalled, skipped so badly that its a miracle the transmission didn’t fall out. I practiced for hours, repeating the same basic movements for what seemed to be a million times until I was skilled enough to drive on major roads. My desire to learn combined with implementing the law of exercise made it possible for me to achieve my goal. Over twenty years later, I still drive a stick shift and do it effortlessly. The law of misuse came into play when for a ten year span I drove an automatic vehicle. From not using the skill I had learned, my ability weakened. When I bought my next five speed, I had to implement the law of exercise again albeit somewhat easier as I had done it before.

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Society owes a debt of gratitude for Throndike’s work as it shaped practices that are used in many schools of discipline all
over the world. These theories appear to be universal and the examples are endless. To achieve considerable results, one must be ready to learn and practice, practice, practice.

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