16 December

What is the Neuroscience of Learning?

What is the neuroscience of learning?

Learning Experience Designer, Damla Surek, discusses Neuroscience of Learning. She explores how learning happens, how we remember & store information and the hormones involved in learning.

The research field of educational neuroscience brings together psychology, education and neuroscience to present the latest findings on how the brain works in relation to learning in the classroom. Every task, learning opportunity and experience shapes the human brain. 

Key Learning Principles:

  • How does learning happen?
  • How fast do we remember?
  • How do we store information?
  • How do we focus?
  • Which hormones are necessary for learning?
  • Can adults still learn?

(credit: https://execusensoryandneuropedagogy.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/nueropedagogy-synthesis.png)

Learn how to keep your students engaged in your digital learning designs

Why is Neuroscience important for us?

Understanding the brain that ultimately determines how people learn seems an obvious goal when it comes to designing learning for that brain. Unfortunately, early learning theories didn’t have access to the inner workings of the brain. At that time, we could at best think of the brain as a black box. We could observe the inputs and outputs that went into and out of the brain. From this we drew conclusions about how we learn. Behaviourism is one of these theories. It focuses on how people interact with their environment and doesn’t tell us much about how the brain works. Although cognitivism and constructivism are more brain-friendly, they aren’t sufficient.

Since constructivism focuses on prior knowledge, it may exclude some learners whom we cannot classify as hardworking. On the other hand, cognitivism ignores possible causes for our behaviour, which could come from our social environment or our biology, for example. With all these technological developments, we now have the possibility to observe the brain. Actually neuroscience involves more than just the brain, it also focuses our social environment or our biology. However, we’ve to keep in mind that this is an ongoing game and we don’t have all the answers yet. But it’s evolving, just like technology! (3, 4)

What is Neuroplasticity?

Before we talk about how we can apply neuroscience to our eLearning experiences, we should understand a very important concept. It’s called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is a broad term that refers to the brain’s ability to change, adapt and modify its structure and function throughout life and in response to experience. When people say that the brain is plastic, they don’t mean that the brain is analogous to plastic. Plasticity refers to the brain’s malleability, described as the ability to be “easily influenced, trained or controlled”. Neuro refers to neurons, which are the building blocks of the brain and nervous system. Neuroplasticity is defined as the ability of neurons to change or adapt.  

Most people think that adults cannot learn anything new, but it’s important to know that the adult brain is still plastic. According to American neuroscientist David Eagleman, adults need to challenge themselves to increase their brain plasticity. One of the best examples of adult learning are London taxi drivers, because they’ve to pass a tough test to become a taxi driver in London. Therefore, their hippocampus (the part of the brain that deals with learning and memory) is bigger than other people’s hippocampus. (5,6,7,8)

How can we use neuroscience in eLearning?

Increasing learners’ dopamine levels

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people enjoy receiving rewards. For some tasks we need a reward to stay motivated. According to neuroscientists, it’s believed that when it comes to a reward, dopamine levels rise in our brain. This dopamine increases eagerness and keeps online learners interested. In addition, it motivates them to fully participate in the hunt for the grand prize. Earning a badge or levelling up can serve as a simple motivator. Because of this, many eLearning professionals are converting their courses into gamification courses. To make learning more interesting, gamification integrates elements of games, such as leader boards and scoring systems, into traditional learning materials.

Creating a learning environment without stress

Our brain is often compared to a machine. Machines, on the other hand, aren’t constrained by emotions such as fear, worry, or similar issues. Our brain therefore needs an optimal learning environment in order to fully absorb information. In fact, two essential actions are required: The brain’s ability to process input comes first. In addition, new neurons and pathways must develop. These procedures can be disrupted, which limits the storage of information. eLearning professionals therefore need to create an optimal learning environment. These include colour schemes, soothing music, and artistic components. The level of difficulty can also affect the brain’s ability to process information. (9)

Building a multisensory learning environment

If you want to build a vivid and long-lasting memory, make sure you develop a multi-sensory memory. Although many of us learn best visually, our other senses are just as important. In fact, the opposite is the case. The best learning happens when all the senses are engaged and the imagination is active. “Presentation strategies that involve two or more senses are more effective than presentation strategies that only use one sense,”; experts agree. To help learners create powerful, long-lasting memories, encourage them to visualise colours, hear sounds, and experience emotions. Give them specifics rather than generalisations when describing a person or place.

Bonus: You can try to enrich your learners’ learning experiences with Web 3.0 tools. Recently, especially with the rise of the term metaverse, VR and AR have become more common in education. With these technologies, learners can have different types of learning experiences in the environments of VR and AR to make mistakes without any real world consequences. 

What’s the A.G.E.S. model?

There’s also an important aspect of neuroscience that can be used to develop training programmes that truly engage learners and enhance performance while being compatible with organisational constraints. It’s known as A.G.E.S.

(credit: https://learningclusterdesign.com/2021/07/12/lcd-and-the-neuroscience-of-learning-ages/)

A.G.E.S. means that learners need to pay attention, gain and share their own insights, develop an emotional connection to the subject matter and have the space to process it all. Cognitive overload is something we’ve all experienced and AGES enables us to prevent it.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, you can increase the likelihood that new ideas will stick if you follow these guidelines: 

  1. Attention is important. 
  2. Generalising insights requires patience. 
  3. Emotions are crucial. 
  4. Spaced learning helps learners to absorb the new information. 

The ability to support rapid learning on a large scale has become a key component of the modern workplace. The AGES model, based on years of neuroscience research, will serve to enhance your learning and development and raise the bar. (11, 12,13)

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References

  1. https://neuro.georgetown.edu/about-neuroscience/
  2. https://www.marian.edu/docs/default-source/about-marian-documents/educational-resources/educational-neuroscience-the-three-disciplines-of-educational-neuroscience.pdf?sfvrsn=1f7e76fd_2
  3. https://xapify.com/blog/the-implications-of-neuroscience-for-instructional-design/
  4. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/neuroscience-fundamentals-instructional-designers-damla-s%25C3%25BCrek/?trackingId=Q79DsyK%2FQ4uwazNeugvjjg%3D%3D
  5. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-neuroplasticity-learning-designers-damla-s%25C3%25BCrek/?trackingId=EXhLc2LuRSuMfST2VV0ijw%3D%3D
  6. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/the-bigger-brains-of-london-taxi-drivers#:~:text=The%20part%20of%20the%20brain,hippocampi%20than%20almost%20anyone%20else.
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU4Q-lsPo1U
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548359/#:~:text=Hippocampus
    %20is%20a%20complex%20brain,of%20neurological%20and%20psychiatric%20disorders.
  9. https://elearningindustry.com/neuroscience-fundamentals-instructional-designers
  10. https://www.shiftelearning.com/neuroscience-based-elearning-tips
  11. https://coreaxis.com/insights/blog/ages-model-of-neuroscience-in-elearning
  12. https://trainingindustry.com/blog/content-development/the-cognitive-science-behind-learning-that-resonates-the-ages-model/
  13. https://elearningindustry.com/implementing-ages-model-for-effective-training-delivery