Science of learning

July 26, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Self Improvement | Leave a comment

I recently came across an interesting article titled “Science of learning” by Mark Levison at It is interesting to know why certain things seem to work better than others when we are either learning ourselves or helping others to learn. It is good to know the science behind the art of learning. As per the author “Only twenty years ago most people in the world of neuroscience believed that the connections between the neurons in your brain were fixed by the time you were a teenager (or even younger). Now we understand that our wiring continues to change (even new neurons can grow) as we grow older. It’s just the rate of change that slows down. This is called neuroplasticity. The discoveries around it are what make this article possible. All of our knowledge, memories and all of our ideas are stored in neural networks – in other words everything inside our brain is encoded as connections between neurons. Neuroplasticity just says that we’re able to make changes to those connections on an ongoing basis. It says that those connections can be grown, strengthened, weakened and even disappear with time.”

My major takeaways from this article were,

It is easier to grow an existing neural network than it is to grow a new one
When we learn new things we’re simply growing new neural networks. Since these don’t just grow out of thin air we need to attach them to existing ideas. It’s easier to relate abstract ideas to concrete experiences. In addition to making the idea concrete, we should stick to the simplest expression of the idea that we can find.Once we’ve provided concrete examples it helps to keep the abstract ideas simple and give ourselves a chance to remember them.

Emotions can create either ‘towards’ or ‘away’ responses
By making learning our own idea and for our own benefit creates positive emotions. These in turn create a “towards” response because stronger we feel about something, easier it is to recall. On the other hand, any emotion that creates an “away” response makes us want to run away from the situation and forget the experience since it is associated with emotional pain.

Short and long term memories have different purposes
Short term memory is great for problem solving but it is not where we put things that we are learning. Long term memory on the other hand is where we store things we really learn. It is much harder to get something into the long term memory and have it stick. Having discussions, restating the ideas in our own words, and using the motor, visual and auditory triggers help converting information into knowledge that we can use in future.

Our brain is capable of fast, efficient, visual processing of images
Millions of years of evolution have equipped us with this capability by using the occipital lobe in the back of the brain. Words on the other hand take lot more energy and are difficult to connect to the existing neural network. We can use external visual aids like pictures and stories or alternately visualize images rather than think in words.

All of us are involved in the process of learning in one way or the other,

  • All of us need to be self learners
  • All of us need to help people from our teams learn more effectively
  • Many of us are involved in formal learning as faculty members

If we make use of these simple tips, we can make our experience much more enjoyable and rewarding.


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