Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category
James Zull’s book The Art of Changing the Brain contends that neuroscience can guide our teaching practice by revealing to us how our brains actually learn. I think his insight is reliable, and I’m particularly satisfied that he views the brain as a complex, multi-scale network and learning as changing, extending, and strengthening the connections within those networks. This fits quite nicely with connectivism, which defines learning in similar networking terms.
This definition of learning puts the student/learner at the center of the learning process, unlike traditional education, which puts the teacher/authority at the center of the learning process. Why? Because if learning is the development of new connections within existing neuronal networks, then learning depends overwhelmingly on the engagement of the student. No teacher can directly touch a student’s brain. Development of neuronal networks absolutely depends on the student exercising her own brain, and her teachers cannot do it for her, any more than a fitness trainer can exercise her muscles for her. The student must sweat and exert herself and must want to sweat and exert.
Read also: Rewiring the Classroom
Neuroscience tells us that the products of the mind — thought, emotions, artistic creation — are the result of the interactions of the biological brain with our senses and the physical world: in short, that thinking and learning are the products of a biological process. This realization, that learning actually alters the brain by changing the number and strength of synapses, offers a powerful foundation for rethinking teaching practice and one’s philosophy of teaching.
James Zull invites teachers in higher education or any other setting to accompany him in his exploration of what scientists can tell us about the brain and to discover how this knowledge can influence the practice of teaching. He describes the brain in clear non-technical language and an engaging conversational tone, highlighting its functions and parts and how they interact, and always relating them to the real world of the classroom and his own evolution as a teacher. “The Art of Changing the Brain” is grounded in the practicalities and challenges of creating effective opportunities for deep and lasting learning, and of dealing with students as unique learners.
Learning, the foundation of adaptive and intelligent behavior, is based on plastic changes in neural assemblies, reflected by the modulation of electric brain responses. In infancy, auditory learning implicates the formation and strengthening of neural long-term memory traces, improving discrimination skills, in particular those forming the prerequisites for speech perception and understanding. Although previous behavioral observations show that newborns react differentially to unfamiliar sounds vs. familiar sound material that they were exposed to as fetuses, the neural basis of fetal learning has not thus far been investigated. Here we demonstrate direct neural correlates of human fetal learning of speech-like auditory stimuli. We presented variants of words to fetuses; unlike infants with no exposure to these stimuli, the exposed fetuses showed enhanced brain activity (mismatch responses) in response to pitch changes for the trained variants after birth. Furthermore, a significant correlation existed between the amount of prenatal exposure and brain activity, with greater activity being associated with a higher amount of prenatal speech exposure. Moreover, the learning effect was generalized to other types of similar speech sounds not included in the training material. Consequently, our results indicate neural commitment specifically tuned to the speech features heard before birth and their memory representations.
Human learning is a complex phenomenon requiring flexibility to adapt existing brain function and precision in selecting new neurophysiological activities to drive desired behavior. These two attributes—flexibility and selection—must operate over multiple temporal scales as performance of a skill changes from being slow and challenging to being fast and automatic. Such selective adaptability is naturally provided by modular structure, which plays a critical role in evolution, development, and optimal network function. Using functional connectivity measurements of brain activity acquired from initial training through mastery of a simple motor skill, we investigate the role of modularity in human learning by identifying dynamic changes of modular organization spanning multiple temporal scales. Our results indicate that flexibility, which we measure by the allegiance of nodes to modules, in one experimental session predicts the relative amount of learning in a future session. We also develop a general statistical framework for the identification of modular architectures in evolving systems, which is broadly applicable to disciplines where network adaptability is crucial to the understanding of system performance.
Acute learning difficulties with maths may be as common as reading and writing difficulties. Researchers estimate that as much as three to six percent of the population in Western countries may struggle with difficulties with maths. Östergren found through his study that dyscalculia can be a combination of various factors. The brain is a complicated organ and manifold mental processes are involved in even the easiest math problems. Poor comprehension of numbers can be compensated for with other talents. Thus it’s important to train these pupils correctly and remember that a diagnosis can be seen as an opportunity, the point of departure for helpful initiatives. Dyscalculia is not the same thing as math anxiety or math phobia, terms often used for tension or fear that interferes with a student’s learning of mathematics.
A single session of intense exercise can improve motor memory and motor skill learning. It takes a lot of practice to master the perfect kick. But if you do a quick high-intensity workout immediately after practicing your kicking technique, you’ll improve your long-term retention of that particular motor skill.
Getting your heart rate up immediately after practicing a motor task improves your long-term retention of that particular motor skill, a new study shows. “If you engage in physical activity, e.g. intensive cycling, after you have acquired a motor task, you’ll get better at performing the same task again a week later,” says Kasper Skriver, a PhD student at Copenhagen University’s Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences, who is one of the researchers behind the new study, just published in the scientific journal PLoS One.
Science cafés — where scientists talk to local people at popular meeting places — are gaining popularity in Africa.
“The cafés involved getting a scientist to discuss their work with a lay audience in an informal setting,” says Ruth Wanjala, a communications expert who was a co-founder of the Nairobi science cafés.
The cafés usually began with a short presentation by the scientist. Then non-scientists — including people who had been affected by a certain health condition — were invited to talk about their experiences, giving rise to a lively debate.
When parents and teachers consider how children learn, it’s usually the intellectual aspects of the activity they have in mind. Sidney D’Mello would like to change that. The University of Notre Dame psychologist has been studying the role of feelings in learning for close to a decade, and he has concluded that complex learning is almost inevitably “an emotionally charged experience,” as he wrote in a paper published in the journal Learning and Instruction earlier this year.
During the learning experiments described in his paper, he notes, the participating students reported being in a neutral state only about a quarter of the time. The rest of the time, they were were experiencing lots of feelings: surprise, delight, engagement, confusion, boredom, frustration. Another counter-intuitive contention made by D’Mello is that even negative emotions can play a productive role in learning. In this latest study, he and his coauthor Art Graesser examined the effects of confusion.