A flat place in a learning curve, indicating a period of little or no progress (Fig. 33).The occurrence and persistence of a plateau depend on the nature of the task, the motivation, the approach of the learner, and the amount of previous experience he has had.
It occurs more often in tasks involving habit formation and routine practice than in complex learning that requires highly organized thought.There are several reasons for plateaus. First, the skill being acquired may have several distinct stages, each of which must be completed before the next begins.
This is particularly true where a “hierarchy of habits” must be mastered, as in studying a musical instrument. The fundamentals of piano- playing are easily learned, but after that a discouragingly long period of little or no progress (the plateau) may be encountered. Once the student gets over this period, he enters a new stage of learning where hands and fingers are integrated and he has the satisfaction of playing actual pieces.
A whole series of plateaus occurs in learning to type, since the student must acquire different habits for individual letters, words, phrases, and sentences. There is usually a period of no apparent improvement during the transition from one of these levels to another.Second, fatigue or distraction may temporarily slow up the learning process.
The two often work together because tired students are easily distracted or lapse into daydreaming. Third, a previously learned skill may interfere with the one now being practiced; for example, reading teachers find that children who are used to reading aloud often find it hard to switch to silent.Fig. 33. A typical learning curve for typing, showing the temporary plateau that often occurs after concentrated practice. Plateaus sometimes occur at each stage or level of learning.reading.
A fourth common cause is “forced feeding” of textbooks or lectures. When new concepts are introduced too fast, learning slows down because there is insufficient time to absorb and master one phase of the subject before going on to the next. In such cases special instruction may be needed to help the student overcome the plateau.
Fifth, a plateau may also reflect loss of motivation. The learner may become bored, lose interest in the task, and just go through the motions. He may also become discouraged if he is aiming too high.The teacher who is aware of all these causal factors can usually prevent or at least shorten the plateau.
One useful technique is to organize the material into a smooth progression that will minimize the gaps between the different stages of the subject matter. Another is to anticipate periods of monotony or loss of motivation and be ready to introduce learning aids, incentives, or discussions that will excite new interest.
A third strategy is to change the teaching approach or introduce different material that will give the students a rest without wasting time. Finally, it is often a good idea to discuss the slump frankly and openly with the students and give them an opportunity to make constructive suggestions.