Brain-based learning is all about choosing teaching methods and lesson designs that take into account recent scientific research about how the brain works and how students learn as they age, grow and mature.
Harvard University offers graduate degrees in the field through its Mind, Brain and Education program. And journal articles, blog posts and debates on the topic are lending voice to the idea that educators must understand how the brain learns to meet the needs of all students.
When it comes to the neuroscience behind learning, there are some key points that are helpful to educators:
Learners’ feelings matter. Students who feel safe, are enthusiastic about their learning environment and are low on the stress scale are ready and able to learn.
Students’ brains have been rewired in the last decade. Yesterday’s teaching methods, much like yesterday’s technology, are outdated. Today’s student brain craves multi-faceted and multimedia experiences, such as multisensory input, scaffolding on previous learning and reciprocal teaching.
The brain is a use-it-or-lose-it organ. With activity and use, the brain’s circuits rewire, make stronger connections and improve their recall. When we provide students with opportunities to think, analyze and problem solve, their neural pathways change and they become more adept at critical thinking.
Reflection nets learning gains. Adding time for reflection to the learning experience deepens connections to the information and consolidates memory, so make sure to give students time to think about what they’ve taken in. Creating artifacts of their learning by blogging or journal writing seals the deal.
Teach students to care for their brains
Here’s what teachers can share with students to help them understand how neuroscience impacts their learning:
Your brain needs fuel. The brain consumes 20 percent of the body’s calories and needs a constant supply of water, oxygen and glucose to function at optimal levels. The lack of any one of these can significantly affect learning, but a proper balance improves working memory, attention and motor functions.
There are tricks to improve brain function. Use them. Working memory has capacity limits — about five to nine items in adolescents. But you can use strategies like “chunking” to increase the number of items you can functionally hold in immediate memory. When students understand that the brain can only process limited amounts of information, they can work with teachers to determine how much information they can take in without feeling overwhelmed.
Multitasking doesn’t work. The brain just can’t focus well on more than one thing at a time. An interrupted brain takes 50 percent longer to complete something and makes 50 percent more errors. Get the most out of your learning and studying time by ditching multitasking and committing to solo-tasking.
ISTE Standards support brain-based learning
Carolyn Sykora, senior director for the ISTE Standards program, notes that the ISTE Standards have long given a nod to brain-based learning. The dispositions for learning that are part of the ISTE Standards for Students include taking responsibility and exhibiting perseverance and adaptability, all of which are supported by metacognition.
Brained-based learning concepts are also baked into the ISTE Standards for Teachers, which recommend that teachers keep up with the research, understand how technology has impacted learning, and differentiate instruction for students using technology as well as methods like flipped learning and blended learning.
Sykora says the refresh of the ISTE Standards, currently in its public comment phase, may very well have an additional emphasis on brain-based learning. In fact, learning scientist Chrystella Mouza, associate professor of instructional technology in the School of Education at the University of Delaware, is one of 17 people serving on the Standards Refresh Technical Working Group that’s currently focusing on revamping the ISTE Standards for Students.
The new standards will be released at ISTE 2016 in Denver.