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What Brain Research Tells Us


Research on the role the brain plays in learning is a work in progress. What is indisputable is that all learning takes place in the brain (Laureate Education, 2011). The how’s and why’s of this process are the genesis of the multiple learning theories now under consideration. Today, through imaging devices, we can visually study the reactions that take place in the brain when a stimulus (new knowledge) has been introduced.  As part of this process, dendrites and synapses precipitate a series of electrical charges and chemical releases (Laureate Education, 2011). Neurons help facilitate connections between the input data and prior knowledge (Laureate Education, 2011).  Proficient learning occurs when the connections between new knowledge and prior concepts are strengthened. It is the responsibility of the teacher to see that this new knowledge is presented to an engaged pupil in such a manner that makes the material meaningful while at the same time providing multiple avenues for retrieval. As we will later understand, technology can help us reach this teaching goal.
But first let us again consider the brain. Research has revealed that the brain seeks meaningful patterns in order to synthesize new information with what the learner already knows (Laureate Education, 2011).  This concept is demonstrated every time an instructor activates prior knowledge in order to connect the learning material to an existing schema.  If there is no prior knowledge then concrete examples must be actively manipulated by the student (Laureate Education, 2011).    For instance, if you are introducing the concept of ratios, using a concrete example of mixing one can of orange juice concentrate with three cans of water will allow the students to connect the novel concept with the familiar. This makes the idea of ratios meaningful and the students will be receptive to this new idea (Laureate Education, 2011).

A second learning theory connected to brain exploration has to do with the efficacy of presenting the material in multi-sensory fashion. The more modalities the learner uses during instruction, the more avenues there are for retrieval of the acquired knowledge (Laureate Education, 2011). In the video, Pat Wolfe hypothesized a situation where no one had any prior knowledge of what the Dalmatians canine breed was all about.  By actually bringing the dog into the room, the people could see, hear, touch, and possibly smell the animal.  This would naturally create more retrieval avenues for recall (Laureate Education, 2011).

Since it has long been accepted that rehearsal and repetition strengthen learning connections, and we now know that multi-sensory approaches are beneficial, elaborate rehearsals that inform our conscious or declarative memories should be practiced in the classroom (Laureate Education, 2011).  These can take the form of “think, pair, share” groupings, problem- based learning scenarios, hands on activities, simulations and exercises that allow students to act out, sing or teach the material to others. Integrating art is also a valuable component of elaborate rehearsals (Laureate Education, 2011). In this manner students use a number of senses while concomitantly tapping into their idiosyncratic learning strengths.  These may include verbal, mathematical, visual, spatial, kinesthetic, musical preferences as well as others (Orey, 2001).
The judicial use of technology in the classroom not only complements recent research about the brain but enhances the teaching-learning dynamic as well. The very act of collaboration, which is inherent in both blog and wiki use activates the visual, auditory and other learning modalities. Furthermore, by disseminating the information to peers the students actuates critical thinking skills as they analyze and evaluate feedback before synthesizing the new information into existing schemas (Lever-Duffy and McDonald, 2008).  In this manner technology makes learning meaningful. Students enjoy sharing their thoughts with an authentic audience. This increases their sense of ownership and accordingly, they are motivated to learn new skills as they master fresh ideas.In addition,   multi-media software can be used for reinforcement, which strengthens neuron connections, while the Internet, with an array of video, graphics, texts and audio components, addresses multiple senses as well as an array of  intelligences (Orey, 2001).


Laureate Education, Inc, (Producer). (2010) [Motion picture]. “Understanding the Brain.”  Baltimore: Wolfe, Patricia.  

Lever-Duffy, J., & McDonald, J. (2008). Theoretical foundations (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Main_Page


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