Neuroplasticity and learning explained
Neuroscience is a biological science that is concerned with the function of the brain and the nervous system. For many years scientists thought that the brain was fixed and couldn’t adapt or change after childhood But advances in fMRI scanning have shown that this could not be further from the truth. We can now see that our brains change and adapt every day regardless of our age. Every time we learn something new we are harnessing the power of neuroplasticity. Neuroscientists believe we have over 100 billion neurons in our brain each capable of connecting to tens of thousands of others. Neurons are the building blocks of the brain and each one can make trillions of connections every second. When we learn a new skill or think about something differently we begin to make to make new connections between neurons. Every time we practice a new skill think in a certain way or feel a specific emotion those related connections are strengthened and it becomes easier for our brains to follow this pathway. If we keep using this pathway our brains begin to adapt. And this new way of thinking, feeling or doing becomes second nature. The less we use our old pathways the weaker that pathway becomes. It is this ability to make new connections that has enabled scientists to coin the term ‘Neuroplasticity’ meaning our brains are pliable and plastic and can grow, adapt and change. When we apply the neuroscience of learning with how the brain works we can modify 4 variables to maximize the retainment of knowledge. These can be summarised as AGES. Attention Generation Emotion Spacing Attention For us to be able to learn something we need to pay attention to it. If we can’t minimize distractions then we can’t focus on the learning and we won’t remember it. Generation This is where we encourage the learner to generate meaningful connections and associations with what they already know or a skill they already have Help the learner to make those connections to previous learning and the wider context and this includes the learner reflecting on their own learning process Emotion If we can attach emotion to the learning and help to motivate the learner with the rewards they will gain from it or challenge them to get out of their comfort zone they are much more likely to remember the information later on. Spacing Spacing out the learning over time and using repetition and retrieval instead of chunking it into one big block will strengthen the learning and help to move it from short term memory to long term memory. With the trend for more courses moving towards end point assessment this skill will be key in the achievement and success of our learners.