Reading This May Save Your Learner’s Lives

Written by Belle Auld

While this statement may not be entirely accurate, it did catch your attention, did it not? Perhaps it prompted you to want to learn more.

I recently attended a workshop called “Brain Research and Learning” presented by Bob Aitken from Vancouver Community College.  There was a lot of fascinating information presented. Although you may know much of this, I thought I would share some of the things I found most interesting.

The process of learning begins first by giving our attention to something. It is a biological impossibility to learn anything without doing so. Meaning and emotion capture our attention and, as such, are critical factors in the learning process. The amygdala, an area of the brain taking part in memory formation, is also involved in our emotions. Understanding and using this connection between meaning, emotion, and learning can allow us to create a more productive learning environment for ourselves and our students.

Here are some ways we can do so:

  • Stop and talk about what is being learned. In order to place things into memory, they must have meaning and emotion. When we describe, use, define and explain something, we put it into our own terms and create our own logical and emotional connections. We enrich our understanding. In addition, when we exercise active learning and take time to explain or teach the subject matter to someone, we use more of our brain than in listening, reading, or recalling combined. Four times of the brain are active when we teach something to someone else.
  • Balance the amount of stress in your life. Stress is a natural and vital part of life but too much can actually kill our neurons by releasing cortisol. It can also derail incoming memory information off the slow and healthy track – to the fast track in which less stops are made, allowing for less brain function. This is also what happens when people experience violence – they are “too scared to learn”. On the other hand, balanced levels of stress combined with focus on our missions and goals are needed to provide meaning in our lives. With meaning comes attention and motivation to learn.
  • Integrate the senses. We can help move things into our long term memory by using as many senses as possible. Reading, writing, speaking, or acting something out will all help this process. Our senses are all connected to brain function. Sensory information that comes through the nose, unlike the other senses, is sent to our amygdala, which is why smells can trigger memories. Yup – smelling can help people learn.
  • Take care of your body. Our bodies work as a system. The brain processes knowledge and information just like the digestive system processes food and oxygen. If any of the elements are missing, the organism dies. Sleep, exercis, and diet are all of critical importance in our learning process. Exercise can double or triple neuron connections and even create new ones.



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