Neuroscience of Learning

At the Merit Club we are fascinated with what makes our brains tick! Every Wednesday we are digging a little deeper into this with our Neuroscience Wednesdays series. Finding videos and articles on subjects from love through to leadership and addiction, these blogs cover a range of ideas and theories that help us understand our mind better, have the power to shape our lives and the way we think. 

This week on Neuroscience Wednesday, the Merit Club has set out to investigate and reveal some truths about our brains; facts we hope will surprise you, facts you may believe to be true... which actually turned out to be false! We are constantly discovering new things about our brains and here at the Merit Club we want to look a little further with a focus this week on how our brains actually learn.

First up, let's get out the way a few neuromyths that have been busted over the years:

  1. We only use 10% of our brains. So not true! Dr Julia Sperling breaks it to us that we are in fact using all the capacity of our brains.

  2. You are either a left-brainer or a right-brainer. The idea that a person uses one part of their brain more than the other is also apparently a complete lie. Yes, some people are more talented in certain things compared to other people. But both hemispheres work together and not separately.

  3. I’m a ‘visual learner’ or ‘auditory learner’. People have been led to believe that they use one channel more than the other, but in actual fact we use as many different channels as we possibly can when it comes to learning - even if we are not aware that we are doing it. 

SO How best do we go about learning something new? how do we put our brains into good practice? 

First of all let's ask ourselves - what is learning? According to Dr. Joe Pulichino, learning is a process that enables human beings to adapt, grow, and to survive. With the help of the 'AGES' model, we can break the learning path down into step by step actions to help us retaining information, and then recall it later in life much easier. Let's have a look at what it is exactly and how it can help us.

ATTENTION - in order to learn something we have to pay attention. Simple! If we don’t pay attention to something or we get distracted when trying to learn, then it most likely won’t happen. Given that the human mind can only pay attention for about 15 minutes before fatigue sets in, it becomes essential to find ways to take breaks, let your brain relax, then get back into focusing fully so that you are able to continue learning. The brain will continue its learning even during these short breaks, but will avoid exhaustion or boredom.

GENERATION - we generate our own meaning out of what’s been learned. When we’re able to associate new learning with a skill we already have, we are able to retain that information far more readily. It is essentially “connecting the dots” between what we are learning with what we already know, which makes it easier to remember it.

EMOTION - It is important to attach an emotion to the learning environment so that we want to learn. There are somany events in our lives that we attach specific emotions to and the same thing applies to learning. When you become emotionally invested in the process, you are far more likely to stick with the process of learning. Simple example is learning a language. Let's face it - it's hard! But if you have a holiday planned to that country in the summer that you have been dreaming about.... I don't even have to finish the sentence, it's that simple. Make sure you create a positive image resource that you can tap into when it gets hard.

SPACING - Spacing out learning over time is very beneficial, especially when it is paired with repetition and retrieval. There's only so much information you can cram (however tempting it may seem before an exam!) 

Ultimately, the most IMPORTANT thing is that we need to constantly remind ourselves why what we are learning is important and valuable, and how it is going to help us in our daily life. Remember, learning new skills and new information is down to us as individuals: it has nothing to do with what type of learner we are or how much capacity of our brains we are using. Find the fun in learning something new. If it's useful for you, even better. Like riding a bike - once you've learnt how to do something over time, and had that sense of satisfaction from learning how to do it, it is far more likely that you'll never forget it. 

Do you have any other tips on learning or what you find works for you? We would love to hear.