High Learning Potential
In this section you can find out all about what the term high learning potential means and the characteristics of children with high learning potential.
Potential Plus UK uses the term ‘high learning potential’ to mean the same as the term ‘gifted’. There are other terms used to mean the same things, especially in education, such as ‘gifted and talented’, ‘exceptional’, ‘more able’ and ‘most able’.
The concept of what it means to be intelligent varies across different contexts and cultures, but the term ‘gifted’ or ‘high learning potential’ most often refers to an ability to understand information well, make quick analyses and use memory capacity to learn quickly. This ability is useful in academic pursuits as well as high level careers and creativity.
The most common definition of children with high learning potential is those individuals with cognitive abilities in the top 2-5% of the population. Cognitive ability, IQ or ‘g’ (meaning general ability in theories of intelligence) is made up of different types of ability and it is generally accepted that a score in the top 2-5% of the population in one of the broad areas of cognitive ability is sufficient to be considered gifted or high learning potential.
In education in the UK, most identification of children as ‘most able’ or ‘more able’ is based on high academic achievement rather than cognitive ability as measured by a standardised test.
As an organisation we changed to using the term ‘high learning potential’ to describe the children we support in February 2013. We feel that the term more accurately represents children who have the potential to achieve highly but may not currently be doing so and who need support to do so. This is in contrast to the term ‘gifted’ which implies a skill that is refined to the point of achieving highly. There is a social stigma attached to the word ‘gifted’ that implies that an individual has all that is needed and does not need any support in order to do well.
We feel that the term reflects that the identification of such children is the starting point of being able to support them appropriately so that they are more likely to achieve their potential.
Parents of children with high cognitive abilities, as well as teachers in schools we support and the children themselves, told us that they felt the term ‘gifted’ was limiting and exclusive. Limiting in that it referred to academic abilities yet cognitive ability when connected with personality, preferences and creativity could lead to high achievement in many different areas. Exclusive in that it felt elitist, about being part of a club that not everyone could benefit from and about which background or opportunity played a part.
Find out more with our advice sheet PA101 High Learning Potential
Broadly speaking, the term ‘ability’ refers to having the means or the skills to do something. The word ‘potential’ conveys a similar meaning. Whereas, the term ‘achievement’ refers to having accomplished or completed something.
When thinking about intelligence, having the intelligence, cognitive ability or potential to do something is part of what enables individuals to achieve. Having high cognitive ability means an individual has the potential to be able to achieve highly. There are, however, other factors that contribute to enabling that ability to become achievement. In school, having a strong verbal cognitive ability means that an individual would be more likely to be able to achieve well in reading, for example, given the right conditions.
It is common knowledge that correlation between ability and achievement is not perfect. In fact, only approximately 60% of individuals fulfil their potential academically. This is because of the other factors that contribute to an individual being successful. These factors could include environmental factors such as home and school, social and emotional factors such as motivation, self awareness and personality, as well as chance factors like friendships, location and opportunity.
This means that identifying individuals as being ‘gifted’ based on achievement measures only will mean there are a significant number of individuals who have high cognitive abilities but are not currently achieving highly who are missed and, therefore, unsupported.
Some children are very significantly advanced in their cognitive abilities, setting them even more apart from other children their age. The characteristics and difficulties associated with high learning potential children will be even more extreme in children who are exceptionally or profoundly gifted. Exceptionally gifted children are those with cognitive abilities in the top 0.1% of the population (or 1 in 1000) and profoundly gifted children are those with cognitive abilities in the top 0.03% of the population (or 1 in 3333).
For more information about the education of exceptionally and profoundly gifted children, please see our advice sheet PA319 Education and Exceptionally Able Children.
There are many definitions about high learning potential and giftedness, many of which refer to the cognitive ability that the population is defined by and very few of them refer to the common characteristics of individuals with high cognitive ability that mean they need specialist support.
A group of dedicated advocates who worked closely with and had a detailed understanding of individuals with high learning potential provided this definition:
“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counselling in order for them to develop optimally.”
The Work of Dr Linda Silverman of the Gifted Development Center in the USA resulted in there being an identified set of characteristics of children with high learning potential. Different children with high learning potential will have a different mixture of the characteristics but each should display a majority of them.
The 25 descriptors were selected as representative of the majority of children tested as having high learning potential, applicable to a wide age range, applicable to children of different socioeconomic backgrounds, gender fair, easily observable in the home environment and brief and clearly worded.
- Learns rapidly
- Extensive vocabulary
- Excellent memory
- Reasons well
- Strong curiosity
- Compassion for others
- Vivid imagination
- Long attention span
- Concern with justice and fairness
- Emotionally sensitive
- High energy level
- Questions authority
- Perseverant in interests
- Wide range of interests
- Good at puzzles
- Ability with numbers
- Judgement mature at times
- Quirky or grown-up sense of humour
- Morally sensitive
- Prefer older companions and/or adults
- Keen observer
- Early or avid reader
- Highly creative
Many parents start their journey of high learning potential with their child through this set of characteristics.
More information is available on the advice sheets PA102 Characteristics of Children with High Learning Potential and PA104 Early Years and High Learning Potential.
All children with advanced abilities have areas that develop at exaggeratedly different rates from neurotypical children. Their cognitive abilities would likely be far ahead of their chronological age. Their achievement in some areas may be advanced yet their physical development may be typical for their age. This asynchrony is one of the things that is common to all high learning potential children and is the cause of misunderstanding and some behavioural issues.
The main reason for high learning potential children’s social and emotional vulnerability is asynchronous development whereby their intellectual development is out of sync with a child’s social, emotional and physical development. A high learning potential child who is developing asynchronously is at times capable of mature reasoning and can astound an adult with the depth of their conversation, yet at other times will throw a tantrum over a seemingly trivial issue and behave like a much younger child!
As children with high learning potential get older, they ‘grow into’ their intellect and become more normal.
More information is available on our advice sheet PA514 Asynchronous Development