The effects of heredity and environment on learning

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Between heredity and environment, which one contributes a greater influence to learning? This is a question that has led to rise of nature versus nurture debate all over the world. As the endless debate goes on, teachers and parents should remember that genetic factors set the limit of a given trait (e.g. intelligence) but the environment determines how much the potential can be realized as Ngaroga (2003) stated. It is therefore necessary for both teachers and parents to embark much on provision of a rich and stimulating environment to their children so as to maximize their intellectual abilities as long as learning is concerned.

Definition of Terms


Myers(2001) defined learning as relatively permanent change in organism's behaviour due to experience.

Ngaroga (2003) defined learning as a relatively permanent change in behavior which comes as a result of practice of an activity.

Blair-Broeker (2003) defined learning as a relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience.


Ingule, Rono and Ndambuki (1996) defined heredity as child's individual inheritance from his ancestral line.


According to Coon (2000) intelligence is an overall capacity to think rationally, act purposefully and deal effectively with the environment.


According to Ormrod (2009) stimulation is eagerly interacting with ones physical and social environment.

Question 1: Explain how heredity and environment influence learning

Effects of Heredity on Learning

According to Ormorod (2009) Heredity influences learning because:-

It lays the foundation for the intellectual potential or ability of an individual.

Each individual inherits different types of intelligences from their parents. Some inherit analytical intelligence others prowess in creative intelligence and practical intelligences. Parents and teachers should therefore observe and identify their children's potential domains, nurture and develop them.

It determines maturation which is a factor affecting learning. Unfolding of genetically directed changes as the child develops for example basic motor skills e.g. walking, running and jumping emerge primarily as a result of neurological (brain) development, increased strength and increased muscular control changes that are largely determined by inherited biological instructions.

It determines personality e.g. temperament.

Children seem to have distinct temperaments almost from birth. Temperament of an individual dictates general activity level, adaptability, persistence, adventurousness, shyness, inhibitedness, irritability and distractibility. Temperament greatly affects learning.

Ngaroga (2003) stated that genetic factors set the limit of a given trait (e.g. intelligence) but the environment determines how much the potential can be realized.

Ngaroga (2003) also stated that mental retardation during pre-natal period can be caused by heredity factors. Mentally retarded learners have problems in all academic areas and have short attention span.

Ngaroga (2003) added that heredity factors such as albinism and colour blindness may lead to loss of sight which plays a very important role in learning. Loss of sight can highly affect learning. 1

Myers (2001) wrote that heredity contributes 50 to 70 per cent intelligence within a group of people. It is intelligence that determines the ability to learn.


Effects of Environment on Learning

According to Myers (2001), Research studies that compare children reared in neglectful environments including those associated with poverty and malnutrition with those who have been reared in normal environments point to impact of environmental experiences on intelligence scores. Findings regarding Head start and other pre-school programs indicate that high-quality programs can generate short-term cognitive gains and long-term positive effects. Recent studies also provide evidence that schooling and intelligence have a positive reciprocal effect on each other.

Ngaroga (2003) wrote that inadequate nutrition to mothers and children e.g. lack of adequate Vitamin A can lead to loss of sight. This can easily minimize learning outcome.

Similarly, Ormorod (2009) wrote that environment affects IQ of an individual e.g. moving a child from a neglectful, impoverished home environment to a more nurturing, stimulating one (e.g. through adoption) can result in IQ gains of 15 point or more.


Question 2: Discuss how teachers and parents can provide a rich and stimulating learning environment to their children

Ormorod (2009) defined "a rich and stimulating learning environment" as the environment that makes a learner eager in interacting with his physical and social environment. She groups learning environment into two categories:-

Physical learning environment set up

Psychological environment

She gives the following general suggestions in provision of strategic, rich and stimulating learning environment.

Communicating acceptance, care and respect for every student.

Human beings seem to have fundamental need to feel socially connected with others. Teachers can help meet students' need for relatedness by demonstrating, through many little things they do, that they care about and respect students as people. Effective communication creates a two-way dialogue journal in which students express their thoughts and feeling, ask questions and request assistance.

Creating a goal-oriented businesslike (but nonthreatening) atmosphere.

Although caring relationships with students are essential, teachers and students alike must recognize that they are at school to get certain things accomplished. Accordingly, a relatively business atmosphere should prevail in the classroom most of the time. This is not to say that classroom activities must be boring and tedious. On contrary, they should be interesting and engaging, and they can sometimes even be exciting. Entertainment and excitement should not be thought of as goals in and of themselves, however. Rather, they are means to a more important goal: mastering academic subject matter. Learning environment should never be uncomfortable or threatening.


Creating a sense of community and belongingness

A learning environment in which the teacher and students consistently work together easily help one another learn .ultimately teacher should also create a sense of community in the learning environment-a sense that they and their students have shared goals are naturally respectful and supportive of one another's efforts and believe that everyone makes an important contribution to learning process. Creating sense of community engenders feelings of belongingness. Students see themselves as important and valued members of the community.

Communicating regularly with parents and other primary caregivers

Productive parent-teacher relationships enhance students hearing and achievement in the learning environment. Parents and other caregivers provide information about current circumstances at home or effective motivational strategies.

Keeping students productively engaged in worthwhile tasks

An effective teacher should plan lessons and learning activities. He should also plan specific ways of keeping students on task. The subject matter should be made interesting and relevant to students' values and goals. A teacher should also try as much as possible try to use colourful audiovisual aids, conduct novel activities e.g. small group discussions, class debates, or occasionally moving to a different location.

To keep students productively engaged a teacher can do the following:-

Have something specific for students to do each day, even on the first day of the class.

Have materials organized and equipment set up before class.

Conduct activities that ensure all students involvement and participation.


Kabiru and Njenga (2007) who seem to have almost similar strategies in provision of a rich stimulating learning environment as Ormrod (2009)but they emphasized much on Maslow's theory of self-actualization where basic needs seem to be a key in provision of a rich and stimulating environment.

They suggested the following additional points as constituting a rich and stimulating environment-:

Providing quality nutrition for their children.

Parents must ensure that they provide adequate balanced diet for the children. Quality nutrition ensures that the child's brain develop properly. As well, proper nutrition ensures that children are healthy and develop a strong immune system. It also ensures that children have energy to participate in learning activities e.g. play, explorations, experimentation and manipulation

Provision of quality health care for children.

The parents should ensure that the children are fully immunized from the immunizable diseases. They should also monitor their growth, health and nutritional status and treat and every condition promptly. Proper sanitation and clean water are important.



As a teacher, it is important to understand the effects of both heredity and environmental factors on learning. By so doing, a teacher can be in a position to plan and lay a strategic environment for learning for their learners. In addition, this knowledge can enable teachers advise parents and offer possible solutions to factors affecting academic performance of their children at school.