The neuroscience of learning

The neuroscience of learning

– Science and Learning Research Centre (SLRC) at the University of Queensland
– Queensland Brain Institute
– Neuroscience is interested in learning and memory formation
– How does the brain learn?
– How do you recall information?
– What are the optimal conditions for learning to occur?
– psychologists have for many years focused upon the behavioural side of learning
– education should be approached from a scientific perspective
– treatments are trialled, then introduced, then assessed & measured for outcomes over the short to medium to longer-term
– the amygdala
– adjacent to the hippocampus
– it is involved in processing emotions
– it is associated with fear learning
– it is associated with reward processing & learning more generally
– anything that really gets remembered often has an emotional component
– they are looking at how to get the amygdala involved in a child’s learning (& its testing)
– feedback (giving, receiving & working upon it) about learning is a very important part of learning & is considered one of the optimal learning conditions to establish [N.B.]
– tests show 50% feedback works better than 100% feedback (means giving feedback for 1/2 the time a number of tasks are performed)[N.B.]
– in-between, the child gets to predict and reinforce their own outcomes
– SLRC likens the brain to an error-predicting machine when it comes to learning

Attention is central to memory & learning
– the brain has tight limits on how much information can be processed by the brain at any one time
– attention allows us to focus down on the task at hand. For e.g.
– listening to a teacher
– focusing upon & reading a page of a text book
– doing some writing
– attention also allows us to filter out or suppress information which is irrelevant or superfluous to the task at hand, or which is otherwise distracting

Things which obstruct attention in the classroom:
1) internal thoughts (thinking about task at hand, not other matters such as lunchtime, or what is happening after school for e.g.)
– a student needs to regulate & suppress thoughts to focus upon e task at hand
2) extrinsic factors / external sensory information (noises in the classroom, the voices of other students, noises outside of the classroom, visual distractions – for e.g.mlistening to a teacher while a video is playing)

SLRC research about Engagement/Motivation:
– Role-plays
– students listen to highly-motivational teachers followed by Small group work – students are more motivated to work when asked to do so cooperatively

SLRC has found the following factors contribute to classroom engagement:
1) The quality of the teaching
– Direct attention on the teacher of 15 minutes approx.
– Passionate
– Engaging
– Involved in continuing professional development
– Good communicators
– Good empathy skills
– People who can build good relationships with young people so they feel comfortable & at ease

Ways to improve student attention – Metacognitive training
– Ability to reflect on our own thoughts and actions
– Students need to be able to step back & ask themselves:
– Am I following the rules needed for this task?
– Have I got my attention on what I need to have my attention on to do this task?
– if not – remind themselves that they need to re-focus their attention on the task.
[Strategy: step back & ask: is this what I am supposed to be doing?]
– Metacognitive training is about learning to independently catch lapses in concentration, by being aware & then re-focusing their attention. [training is required for 10 weeks]
– this involves monitoring their own thoughts & re-engaging with real world tasks
– attention-training tasks
[NOTE: SLRC are also testing electrical stimulation of the brain to promote attention]

– still to be researched:
– optimal small group sizes
– when is the optimal time to provide feedback

Source: All in the Mind ABCRN | Podcast date: 28.08.16


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