The Four Barriers to Learning

The Theory you need to Know For
Children, Adult & Disability Learning

If you have a child who has given up on learning something, or even an adult who has a disability learning something, then chances are high that you have broken one of the four rules to successful, pain free learning.

The first barrier to learning is pretty simple.  It’s the reason why a lot of people cannot be taught, no matter how much a teacher may want to teach them.  What is it?



This barrier is more relevant when trying to teach adults or older children. It is very seldom a reason why a young child cannot be taught.



The second barrier to learning is too much, too soon. Successful learning happens one step at a time, little by little. If you take too big a step, too soon, then you can crash. This is often when children will start to cry.

Here’s an example taught to me by the person who taught me this information. I’ll call him William. In different levels of Martial Arts, you have to learn different sets of movements, which must be done is a special order. Each set of movements is called a Kata. They can be quite complicated and normally take several months to learn. William was learning advanced Karate at a Karate school. One day the head Karate teacher asked him to take over and teach a group of new students the first Kata. The head teacher then left him to it.

The Kata he had to teach had 23 moves to it. Normally all 23 moves are taught in one go. William knew about teaching “too much, too soon”, and decided instead to break the Kata down into individual movements. He did not move onto the second movement until all students could do the first one, and then all could do the first and second, and then all could do the first, second and third, and so on and so forth.

Guess what? Instead of taking several months, by the time the head teacher came back 45 minutes later, ALL students were doing the COMPLETE Kata! As is normal in this crazy world we live in, the head teacher looked horrified (because he could see himself losing months of class fees), rather than gratified, and sent William on his way, without even asking him how he did it.

Anytime you are having any resistance to learning, back up to when it was easy, and then break the next bit into smaller steps. Even if you are an adult who is learning something, do not do too much, too soon. Do not move on to a harder step until you have mastered the previous step.

If you are a Homeschooler, this is just one important reason why I believe that Saxon Math is vastly superior to other curriculums. I was teaching my son using both MathUSee and Saxon math. The MathuSee blocks are excellent, but once you get past 2nd grade, you will find that the Saxon math curriculum and worksheets break each new thing to learn, into lots of little steps, whereas MathUSee dumps the child into very advanced methods, way too soon, and without breaking very hard things (like long division) into little steps, one step at a time.



Let’s say that I tell you that for your next lesson, we are going to study an object which sits on two round objects, is joined by many pieces of metal, has objects which you can use to point it in different directions and can be used to move people around. What is it?

Is that a bit hard to picture? To understand completely?

What say instead I give you a picture of the object we are studying. Please scroll down ….


Is it easier to understand now?

Better yet, if you are teaching someone about a bicycle, bring a real one into the room or take them to one.

Adults make this mistake a lot. For example, they will explain something that is very clear in their mind what it is, but makes you confused because you can think of lots of different things that fit the same picture. It’s best if they draw some kind of diagram at the very least, if they can’t find a picture.

The symptoms for not having the object being studied present, or at least a picture of the object being studied include:

  • Headache.

  • Sore eyes.

  • A ‘heavy’ feeling.

  • Irritability.

  • In the case of children – crying.

Now that we have the internet, it’s easy to handle this barrier. Just go to a search engine (like or and click on “images” and search for images of the thing you are studying.



The 4th block to learning is possibly the most important one to know, because it is so common and so little known by most people.  It is when there is a word that you don’t know the meaning of, or you know a little bit about it, but you do not fully understand the word or the context within which it is being used.

Have you ever really wanted to learn something, started studying it and, then later given it up and never come back to it? Or, a more common scenario, have you ever read something, and then realized that you had no idea what was on the page you just read?

In both cases, the chances are very high that there was a word or words that you didn’t fully understand. It might be a word that you did not understand at all, but often it’s a word that you think you know the meaning of, but you don’t fully understand it, or the word has more than one way of using it, and you do not know about the other possible meanings for the word.

This word is called a “misunderstood word”.

What is a word? It is a sound which represents something. A written word represents this sound.

Here’s how a misunderstood word can stop you from learning. Think of your brain as a computer. The brain has many different parts, each of which can pay attention to one particular thing. Let us call each of these parts “attention units”. When you start reading or learning, all the attention units are free for concentrating on whatever is needed to be concentrated on:


But, once a misunderstood word is encountered, part of the brain spends its energy and time trying to work out the misunderstood word. This ties up some of the attention units, so they are not available to you anymore for concentrating, as in the following picture:


As you encounter more words that you don’t completely and fully understand, more and more attention units get tied up, as in the following picture:


As I said earlier, this can cause headache, sore eyes, a ‘heavy’ feeling, and in the case of children – crying and irritability. That is why you can read a whole page, or several pages, and have no clue to what you just read.

The solution is to go back and to find what was the last word you read before you started having difficulties. It’s often not one of the big words, it can be a very simple one. Get a good, big, clear dictionary and find out exactly what it means.

I myself have three different dictionaries, and I often consult all three. One of them is the enormous Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (which means “not made shorter, had not had any words removed from it). It weighs 12 pounds. I recommend that you obtain an unabridged dictionary.

Here are examples of this:

1) I was teaching my son to read and the book said “A pig in a wig”. If you are teaching a four year old to read, while he may have seen a pig, I bet he has no clue what a wig is, even if there is a rough drawing of it! So, I went to the internet and found pictures of pigs and pictures of wigs, so that he could understand fully what the book was saying. In this case, there were two blocks to learning – a misunderstood word, and not having the actual object present.

2) A teacher of mine told the story whereby he was doing some work, and knowing about the problems that can be created by misunderstood words, he made sure that he understood everything he was reading.  But one day he came upon a word that he couldn’t find a meaning for in the dictionary.  The dictionary had some meanings, but not the meaning that made any sense in the context that it was being used in.  He left, and never returned to the work he was doing for several years, despite that fact that he loved the work, and felt that it was his life’s purpose.

However, one day, some friends, who realized that he probably left because of a misunderstood word, laid a trap for him.  He was dating a girl who told him to meet her at the building.  When they arrived, they had laid out the very work he had been studying when he had left.  They asked him when he was last doing well. Then they asked him when it went wrong.  Eventually they narrowed it down to one page.  Then to one word.  In the end, to define the word, they had to go to a massive dictionary that came in 2 volumes and that required a magnifying glass.  (The word was “genus”.  Most dictionaries have only the definition of using it as a term used in zoology, the study of animals, as being the next level up from species.  But the meaning that it was being used for was ‘beginning’).

3) I was doing some work to clear negative emotions with a practitioner.  I had to answer the same question over and over again until I worked out the answer to a particular problem.  Normally I would have worked out the answer within 15 minutes or so.  Instead, 5 hours later I had still got nowhere and felt as if I was going unconscious.  Finally the practitioner realized that I didn’t fully understand every word in the sentence he was asking.  Often it is not the complicated words.  Often one gets trapped on the seemingly simple words, which it was in this case.

When my practitioner asked me what ‘could’ meant I said “past tense of can”.  That was the only meaning I allowed myself to have.  I hadn’t included another definition, which is “possibility”.  In fact, when you go to most dictionaries, including the Concise Oxford or Webster’s Dictionary, the only definition for “could” is “past tense of can”.  It’s only larger and more thorough dictionaries which also include the second meaning of “possibility”.

That is how I pick out a good dictionary now, and I suggest you do the same. First of all, make it a very big dictionary. Most dictionaries are way too small. Go to ‘could’ and see if it has at least two definitions, the definition of “possibility”, in addition to “past tense of can”. You will find when you do this that most of the dictionaries for sale are useless.  They aren’t big enough to have all definitions.  Also,  a lot of them use very complicated definitions.  You want one that is very large, and childishly simple, so that you don’t encounter extra misunderstood words while you are looking up the meaning. You can also go to, but I find that often a really good, big dictionary works a lot better.

Often the words are not the big words.  They can be the little ones.  Remember when Bill Clinton said that famous line when asked a question during an interview: “It depends what your definition of “is” is?”.  He may have had a point.

If you would like to develop a photographic memory and get extra intelligent, the very best thing you can do is start spending time with a really good dictionary, and get very, very clear on what lots of different words mean.

Interestingly, I once heard of a study whereby the researchers looked at many different aspects to see if there was one particular thing that all people had in common who were CEOs (Chief Executive Officer) of major companies. It turned out that they all had only one thing in common – they all knew the meaning of more words than other people did.

Please see also:

55 Serious Reasons Why You Should Homeschool

See what People are Saying about the “Perfect Health with Kinesiology & Muscle Testing” DVD Training


This information comes from the early work of L. Ron Hubbard, and was taught to me by someone who studied with him. While I have never been a member of the organization that he founded, and definitely do not recommend that anyone join it, I have found some brilliant and useful information in some of his early books. However, I am sorry I can’t give references as I do not know which books this particular information came from.





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