Monday, June 17, 2013

Knowledge and How the Brain Learns

1.0.0 Introduction In recent days there has occurred an increased interest on the debate about the evolution of the brain and the impact that the discoveries in the manner in which the brain learns may have on education. Jensen (2008, p. 1) claims that it is now an estimated two decades since it was first presupposed that there are connections between the functions of the brain and educational practice. According to Fischer (2009, p. 1) a consequence of this interest has been the emergent field of Mind, Brain and Education whose major intention is to put together the disciplines of biology, development, cognitive science and education so as to establish an effective framework of education related investigative studies (Blake & Gardner, 2007, p. 61). Battro (2000) claims that investigative studies conducted on children with half brains have indicated clearly the significance of biological information in the facilitation of educational pursuits as well as the importance of educational outcomes in formulating answers for neuroscientific quandaries (Immordino-Yang, 2007). According to Fischer (2009, p. 5) the modern day framework of the human mind describes the brain as the main organ that is involved in the processes of consciousness and learning; as a matter of fact, the brain is described as the source of an individual’s distinctiveness and self. This model presupposes that when individuals learn they tend to store knowledge in the brain. The brain then acts as a repository where information is stored until need arises for it to be recalled. This paper aims at discussing the manner in which brain learns and the impact and value that this has on education. 2.0.0 How the Brain Learns The brain is the most important organ in any education process; Himwich (1964) posits that this is due to the fact that it is the “machine that allows all forms of learning to take place”. It is however noteworthy that just as the brain facilitates knowledge and learning is also a natural mechanism that serves to impede the process of learning since it determines what educational content can be learnt, how much of it is learnable and at what speed (Blakemore and Frith, 2005). The brain is also believed to be amongst the most complex systems in the entire universe and it is almost impossible to understand it in its entirety. The brain of a human adult is estimated to weigh approximately 1.4 kg or three pounds; in addition, to this the brain is comprised on an estimated 100 billion brain cells (also referred to as neurons). Neurons are in turn made up of long and short fibers that establish connections with the bodies of other neurons in the brain; as a matter of fact, the brain is believed to be made up of more than one million billion intercellular links (Himwich, 1964). Neurons function in similar manner to batteries and when activated they fire impulses referred to as action potential. It is therefore very important for educators to be aware of the manner in which the brain develops and learns. According to Blakemore and Frith (2005, p. 460) as after birth an individual’s brain develops new synapses leading to an increase in the number of synapses per unit volume of brain tissue. This is the process that is commonly referred to as synaptogenesis which occurs at different durations of time depending in the species that the living organism belongs to. Katzir and Paré-Blagoev (2006) reveal that after a human child is born, its synapses enter into a process of growth and transformation. The child’s genes-usually inherited from its parents- determine the synapses that will diminish and die from those that survive and develop. The child’s early life experiences also play a role in this process (Blakemore and Frith, 2005, p. 461). According to Jensen (2008, p. 1) a great number of brain based discoveries that are very important to educational practice have been forwarded by experts in the recent years. One such discovery is the process of neurogenesis. Neurogenesis refers to the processes in which new neurons are manufactured in human brains (Himwich, 1964). According to Soulsa (2006, p. 5) the brain learns through a process of neuroplasticity; this refers to the process through which the brain engages in processes of reorganizing itself based on its inputs. Despite the fact that this process tends to be speedier in the early years of human existence, it continues through out the life of a human person (Jensen, 2008). The life experiences that a person goes through in their home or school settings are very significant in determining the manner in which their neural circuits are formed. These neural circuits, in turn, determine what the person’s brain may learn both at school and other different life settings. Soulsa (2006, p. 6) reveals that investigative studies conducted on the human brain have brought about a deeper comprehension of circadian cycles. A greater understanding of the circadian cycles has been very significant in elucidations about why teaching and learning activities are more difficult at particular times of the day (Samuels, 2009, p. 50). Recent research discoveries on how the brain learns have also distinguished between intelligence and creativity; more over, educators need to realize that despite the fact that intelligence and creativity are two distinctive phenomena they can both be adjusted by the activities that one is exposed to at schools and other environments (Soulsa 2006, p. 6). 3.0.0 Importance of Neuroscience to Education Learning about how the brain learns is very significance to the practice of education; this is due to the fact that neuroscience is characterized by a wealth of information that is very significant in informing education. Himwich (1964) claims that one of the most significant contributions of neuroscience to education is the fact that it is important for relevant experts to successfully undertake the process of identifying and adjusting the neural structures that bring about different forms of learning and recall processes that occur without the learner’s awareness (Vidal, 2007, p. 30). The manner in which the brain learns is important to educators due to the discovery of the process of “learning without awareness”. Investigative studies and researches in neuroscience reveal that the human brain has the capacity to acquire information even when one does not notice or pay attention to the information being acquired. Himwich (1964) points out that this discovery impacts on a number of learning and teaching theories in education. In addition to this, until recently the common belief was that the adult brain is incapable of undergoing transformations. Previously brain scientists were convinced that that although in the first few years of human life the brain had all the cells required for effective functioning and learning, it underwent a downward spiral in adulthood. This decline was perceived to be as a consequence of diminishing brain cells which in turn adversely affects the functions of memory, performance and learning. Research and investigative studies in the present day have however indicated that the adult human being is actually more flexible than previously thought and that it is equipped with the ability to generate new cells and establish new links in a number of its regions for instance the hippocampus. Consequently, there is no age limit for learning. This factor is emphasized by the plasticity character of the human brain. Investigative studies carried out on the plasticity of the brain reveal that the brain is fashioned in a manner that predisposes it to lifelong learning as well as adaptation to its different contexts. It is important to note that in order for effective learning to take place the learners must be willing to remain attentive. Bruer (1997, p. 5) purports that the attention function in human beings is managed by particular parts of the brain; nevertheless, the brain’s neural systems get worn out very quickly and become less responsive. It is very important for teacher to realize that learners need adequate rest if any substantial learning is to take place. The teacher needs to provide the learners with continuous and constant stimulation that will enable the learners’ brains to attain the novelty that it seeks. Teachers should not only present the learners with non-stop factual information; they should also be able to place the facts and concepts into the life contexts of the learners so as to increase the significance of the educational material being learnt to the learner. Another very valuable implication of neuroscience on education is the discovery that effective brain development requires an environment that is enriched; this is due to the fact that the environmental factor affecting the development and functioning of the brain are as important as the hereditary ones. Himwich (1964) reveals that neurobiological investigative studies carried out by Bill Greenough and his associates at the University of Illinois have disclosed that the environment is very significant due to its propensity to impact upon the synapses of the brain during the brain development process. By making use of rats the research by Greenough was able to depict that depending on the life occurrences that a living organism is exposed to their brains have the capacity for an adaptive process that updates the organism’s brain organization (Himwich, 1964). The rats that were raised in complex contexts were not only recorded as performing learning tasks more efficiently and speedily than those that were deprived but were also able to move rounded mazes more quickly. In addition to this, the amount of physical exertion that living organisms engage in determines the flow of blood to their brains and consequently the effectiveness of the brain’s functions. 4.0.0 Conclusion Human beings, particularly scholars, thinkers and academicians, have always had a great interest and curiosity about the brain and the manner in which it operates. This paper has discussed in detail the manner in which knowledge of how the brain learns could and will have a great impact on education. As already indicated the brain is the most important organ in any education process. This is due to the fact that it is the “machine that allows all forms of learning to take place”. It remains undisputable that neuroscience wields great potential to contribute to educational research. As a matter of fact, the area of neuroscientific study that has received greatest interest is brain plasticity. This is because relevant experts are convinced that when educators acquire knowledge of the way in which the brain adapts, functions and learns the will be able to better understand their students and the educational needs that they have. Cognitive psychologists are well placed to establish the links that are required between neuroscience and education. Connecting neuroscience discoveries and education will enable teachers to not only identify the different ways in which stress may act as an impediment to neuroplasticity but also the manner in which activation and utilization of memory systems strengthens brain responses. 5.0.0 References Battro, A., (2000), “Half a Brain Is Enough: The story of Nico”, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press Blake, P., & Gardner, H., (2007), “A First Course in Mind, Brain, and Education”, Mind, Brain, and Education, 1, pp. 61 – 65 Blakemore, S-J and Frith, U., (2005), “The Learning Brain: Lessons for Education”, John Willey and Sons Bruer, J. T., (1997), “Education and the Brain: A Bridge too Far”, Educational Researcher, Vol. 26, No. 8, American Educational Research Association, pp. 4-16 Fischer, K. W., (2009), “Mind, Brain and Education: Building a Scientific Groundwork for Learning and Teaching”, International Mind, Brain, and Education Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc., Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 3-14 Himwich, W. A., (1964), “The Developing Brain”, Volume 30, Elsevier Immordino-Yang, M. H., (2007), “A Tale of Two Cases: Lessons for Education From the Study Of Two Boys Living With Half Their Brains”, Mind, Brain, and Education, 1, 66 – 83 Jensen, E. P., (2008), “A Fresh Look at Brain- Based Education”, Neuroplasticity, pp. 2-23 Katzir, T., & Paré-Blagoev, E. J., (2006), “Applying Cognitive Neuroscience Research to Education: The Case Of Literacy”, Educational Psychologist, 4 1, pp. 53 – 74 Samuels, B. M., (2009), “Can the Differences Between Education And Neuroscience Be Overcome by Mind, Brain, And Education?” Mind, Brain, and Education, 3, 44 – 54 Sousa, D. A., (2006), “How the Brain Learns”, SAGE Publications Vidal, F . ( 2007), “Historical Considerations On Brain And Self” In A. Battro, K. W. Fischer, & P. Léna (Eds.), The educational brain: Essays on neuroeducation, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 20 – 42