Influence of Environment and Heredity on Learning

By Anthony M. Wanjohi:
Environment and heredity have been considered two key factors that influence learning. Learning environment is critical in sound teaching and learning process. Review of literature shows that Internal and external environment affect learning to a greater extent. Besides environment, heredity/genetic factor has also been found to have some influence on human behaviour. This article briefly discusses these factors and their influence on learning.

Influence of Environment on Learning
The behavior and development of people is mostly affected by the physical environment in which the live. School environment is vital in enhancing learning. A conducive environment of the school compound for instance, helps learners to be able to achieve well in their academic pursuits. The school environment can be viewed as the personality of the school which makes it distinct and unique from others.

A survey by Swedish Work Environment Authority (2005) investigated the environmental impact on effective instruction. The study found out that a good psycho-social school environment is an important prerequisite of learning and of pupil satisfaction in school. The study dealt specifically with environment and its impact on effective learning without looking into the overall components of effective learning.

The physical environment of the classroom also affects the individual children and the group as a whole. The physical environment includes the size of the room, the colors of the walls, the type of flooring, the amount of light, and the number of windows. A physical environment which is secure, appealing and well planned helps children to effectively engage in healthy learning activities. Such an environment can support goals for children and helps them to interact in positive ways, thus reinforcing learning.

Influence of Heredity on Learning
Many aspects of human characteristics such as height and eye color are largely determined by genetics. Learning has also been tied with genetic influence.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, philosophers such as René Descartes and Immanuel Kant argued that human cognition was largely reflective of genetically determined predispositions. They maintained that humans are born with certain cognitive inclinations. On the contrary, John Locke compared the human mind to a piece of blank paper without any ideas written on it (tabula rasa), meaning blank slate. He suggested that only from experience do humans draw reason and knowledge. Following these opposed ideas, scholars have continued to explore the influence of heredity on learning.

A study by Frank et al (2007) on how genes influence learning is a source of new insights among scientist on the role of genetics in learning. The study found links to learning behaviors in three separate genes associated with dopamine (a chemical in the brain that is associated with pleasure, learning among other behaviours). The study found genetic differences between slow and fast learners. Such findings among others, have continued to address the issue of genetic influence on learning.

Beeler, J.A., Frank, M.J., McDaid, J., Alexander, E., Turkson, S., Sol Bernandez, M., McGehee, D. & Zhuang, X. (2012). A role for dopamine-mediated learning in the pathophysiology and treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. Cell Reports, 2, 1747-1761.

Swedish Work and Environment Authority (2005). Pupil’s Environment in Schools. Available online at