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What is brain-based learning?

Marie SwanAugust 20, 2019

Mindset, brain-storming

Anyone working in education knows the importance of finding the most effective way to impart knowledge. Brain-based learning is an advanced teaching method that aims to increase the speed and efficiency of learning. Let’s take a closer look at how to use the latest discoveries in the classroom.

An overview of brain-based teaching

Scientists have been carrying out studies to find out more about how the human brain learns. The result of their work, known as brain-based teaching, is being used to design lessons and school programs that promote speedy and efficient learning. 

Having an understanding of these methods helps teachers to tailor their teaching styles to their students’ needs. Knowing how students learn in different ways as they mature allows educators to select the most appropriate classroom experiences for their cohort.

The theory behind brain-based education

Brain-based education aims to improve and accelerate the learning process by using the science behind learning to select a curriculum and form of delivery for each group of students. When adopting this method, educators must forget established conventions. They must also leave behind assumptions about learning and previous practices. Instead, they must look to the most recent cognitive science discoveries as inspiration for their future lesson delivery.

It was once thought that intelligence is fixed and remains virtually the same through someone’s entire life. More recent discoveries reveal that physical changes take place in the brain during learning. When someone practices certain skills, they find it easier over time to carry on improving those abilities. Learning has been demonstrated to improve resiliency, working intelligence, and brain function. This discovery holds considerable potential for schools and educators everywhere.

The implications of brain-based learning are far-reaching. By putting this knowledge into practice, schools can create academic programs that are best suited to each year group. Individual teachers can also structure the most appropriate educational experiences for their own students.

Photo credit: Harish Sharma / Pixabay

What affects the way in which the human brain learns?

The majority of the academic dialogue and scientific research surrounding brain-based learning focuses on neuroplasticity. This is the idea that the brain’s neural connections remap, reorganize, and change themselves when learning new concepts. This also happens when the individual has a new experience or practices different skills as time goes on. 

The human brain is capable of performing several activities simultaneously. Moreover, identical information is able to be stored in several parts of the brain. Research has revealed that exercise, diet, stress, and emotional state affect learning. It has also found that the information itself is less important than the underlying meaning when the brain learns something new.

How can brain-based learning take shape in the classroom?

With such a wide range of scientific findings, it’s clear that brain-based learning can take several forms. Schools and individual teachers can choose the best approach to facilitate learning for their students. For example, student stress could be reduced by playing calming music or arranging regular physical activities. Beanbag chairs or couches could replace traditional seating in studying and reading areas. A schoolwide promotion could encourage students to eat a healthier diet or to engage in more exercise, two factors that improve brain health.

The benefits of brain-based learning are already recognized by those who are responsible for training new educators. More universities and colleges are now offering degrees in this new and exciting field. As a result, those who are now entering the profession have an in-depth knowledge of how to help their students learn more effectively.

teacher teaching children raising hands in classroom
Photo credit: Nicole Honeywill / Unsplash

The principles of brain-based learning

There are several principles of brain-based learning that can help teachers to improve their pupils’ learning experiences.

A healthy body promotes a healthy mind

Learning should engage the entire body. This means that eating healthily and exercising more helps the brain to work more effectively. Introducing walking breaks or more movement into classroom activities is also beneficial.

Emotions are key to memory, meaning, and attention

A happy student is able to think more effectively than an unhappy one. Positive praise is thus an effective tool for raising self-esteem in the classroom. When pupils feel capable, they remain motivated.

Interaction with others benefits brain development

Planning group projects and activities both in and out of class helps pupils to learn from each other. Cooperation is a highly effective way to learn.

Teaching each other boosts memory

Students who have the chance to impart their own knowledge to their peers find that they can retain more information. Encouraging students to teach each other promotes more effective learning.

Memory improves through practice

The brain is capable of memorizing information, but learning through trial and error is infinitely more efficient. Asking students questions and creating checklists for use immediately after teaching them new content helps them to retain that information.

Photo credit: klimkin / Pixabay

Avoid long lectures

Only 5-10% of information imparted during a lecture is retained after just one day. Discussion is a more effective way of ensuring retention.

Make it meaningful

Teachers need to grab their students’ attention within the first 20 seconds of introducing a new subject. This ensures that their students are more likely to commit the information to their long-term memory. Captivate your students with a topic that is meaningful and relevant. For example, make a lesson covering percentages more exciting by applying the principles they are learning to find discounts on popular smartphones or video game consoles. Or, if you’re teaching students a new concept in biology, consider starting class with a fun and educational YouTube video to grab their attention.

Moving information from short- to long-term memory

Known as recording, one way to achieve this is by asking students to translate their learning via the written and spoken word.

Utilize humor, storytelling, movement, and games

This stimulates the brain’s emotional center, the amygdala. This helps to reach students in a more engaging way so that their brains can process new material more efficiently.

Reduce stress for more effective learning

High levels of stress in the brain cause chemical changes. These, in turn, impair performance. Having an emotionally positive learning environment with a calm atmosphere encourages a higher level of performance.

group of student smiling inside room
Photo credit: Jonny Mansfield / Unsplash

Does brain-based learning work?

At present, educational neuroscience is an emerging field. Cognitive science technologies and methods are still under development and are only starting to be tested in the classroom. The recent findings are interesting and show a lot of potential for future educational programs. It is important to remember, however, that theories are still evolving. It can be all too easy to misinterpret scientific evidence. Those who do so run the risk of adopting educational practices that have dubious value.

It is also essential to find the optimal balance between neuroscientific findings and the realities of teaching. While neuroscientists may recommend that lecturing should only last for a maximum of ten minutes, this is rarely going to be practical. Although research has found that the brain becomes more stimulated when learners are physically active, it will probably be unworkable to have treadmills inside classrooms. It’s clear, then, that a more sensible approach is to use these findings as a basic guideline rather than an instruction that is set in stone.

Nevertheless, the evidence so far suggests that teachers who do use the principles of brain-based learning as the foundation for an engaging curriculum and creative environment can improve the efficiency and speed of their students’ learning.

Photo credit: Mohamed Hassan / Pixabay

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