The Learning Brain
Despite there being plenty of research into the brain and also its learning mechanisms we discovered that there is little consolidation of this research. We therefore set out in 2018 to consolidate this reserach and build a whole new robust taxonomy of learning and the brain.
- A complete framework
- A complete taxonomy
- Biological and psychological
- Understanding nature’s hierarchies
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Who is this for?
A whole bunch of people will be interested, from those simply curious, to those involved in education in all its forms, to parents, to older people (like myself). This is designed to give free access to a complete, comprehensive, and scientifically solid framework of learning.
You may just be a curious individual or invovled in research, teaching, training & development, or fascinated as a parent.
Business and their learning & development staff will be interested in how the brain learns and how this can be applied in the world of business.
Obviously educational institutions and their staff will be interested as this is at the heart of what they do!
The Learning BrainA fully comprehensive model of how the brain (and therefore human beings) learn.
What is learning
There are many possible definitions of learning but from a biological point of view it is adaption to an environment. And the good news is that the brain and body is exquisitely adapted to do this.
There have been numerous learning taxonomies developed but, on research, we found that these go back decades and do not incorporate the recent leaps in knowledge of the neurosciences.
How does the brain learn?
The brain is a learning mechanism in its own right – that is one reason we have a brain. But many theories look at only a single aspect of learning e.g. how neurons grow, but there are many, many more.
This side will cover the following five areas which will give you the most comprehensive learning taxonomy to date.
1. Learning Mechanisms
The brain has a bunch of learning mechanisms many of which are rarely explicitly focused on in the learning literature.
Learning happens across, so-called domains, the most obvious of which are cognitive and physical, but there are more and a few that academics have generally missed.
3. Natural Hierarchies
Learning happens in natural patterns and therefore there are natural hierarchies to learning which often do not match to academic models.
There are multitudes of approaches to learning – we highlight what is important and how to map these.
Learning happens in environments – and this may be the most important aspect of all of this – something to be taken very seriously!
1. Learning MechanismsHow the brain is set up for learning
Six Types of Learning Mechanisms in the Brain
The biological mechanisms that enable growth, connections, activation, and pruning of the brain to process new and more information, and new and more refined behaviours.
The brain requires activation and stimulation to be able to build and learn. We will review the forms this can come in.
From the constant noise of information and input into the brain, it will need to focus attention and identify discrete and interconnected information.
Personal drives, motives, and personality patterns will drive learning in different directions and make certain information more, or less, relevant.
There are natural systems at work in learning and life – these include factors such as cognitive load but also wave functions which control all living organisms.
The brain takes all the information it has and builds frames of reference to guide all future information and learning. Understanding this is critical to understanding the brain and learning.
Into the Details!
Let’s get stuck into the details and dive into the actual mechanisms of learning.
First up the biological learning mechanisms of the brain.
Cellular learning mechanisms
Cellular learning mechanisms never mentioned in learning text books.
It is fascinating to know that each brain cell has cellular learning mechanisms by which it alters its firing patterns to impulses coming in. These happen at the cellular level and not at the network or “psychological” level. So before we can think of growth of the brain and synapses in particular, we need to understand the cellular learning mechanism of all brain cells. For more information on the brain see our knowledge base.
Neurons can go through a sensitisation process. This is the process whereby after receiving a strong simuli (a “shock”) the neuron will become sensitised and over repsond to normal stimuli afterwards (for a period of time depending on “Habituation”: explained here to the right).
Neurons do no respond to stimuli liek electrical circuits always givein the same output to the same input. Habituation is when the same input gives a decreased output over time i.e. the neuron becomes less responsive over time.
Similar to but importantly different to sensitisation is when a neuron receives almost simultaneous input, one large and one small, and can then misrepresent subsquent small inputs as the large input. Hence an incorrect representation of a small to give a large output.
In contrast to the above, the “plasticity/growth” aspect is covered extensively in all literature though it may be overhyped, misrepresented and the true underlying complexity and biology ignored. Nevertheless it is generally good news for all of us!
Plasticity in general refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and there are many mechanisms that enable this. The most highly publicised is that of synaptic growth whereby stimuli triggers growth between neurons. There are other functional and biological processes. These are guided by genetics and so we will have different levels of plasticity (but we all have plasticity). This diminishes with age, sorry to say!
Neurogenesis refers to the birth of new brain cells. This is exciting stuff because many of us have been taught previously that our brain cells to not regenerate. Exciting as this is, it seems that neurogeensis is very limited and only happens in very limited areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus (which has a key role in memory consolidation and spatial navigation).
Pruning is somewhat surprising to many people! The brain has processes by which it cuts connections and/or kills brain cells. This process is very active in young children, clearing out unwanted connections to increase brain efficiency. Your brain continues to do this and it is an important process also – unlearning is just as important as learning!
The System Level
Though we have been primarily speaking about the brain, the brain operates in a system with the body – here are some important factors that influence the brain and therefore learning.
Sleep is the third, often forgotten, pillar of physical and psycholgical health. Its role in learning is critical – specifically the majority of brain growth happens during deep sleep! This not to mention emotional consolidation, and brain detoxification. This applies to young and old – make sure you get a good night’s sleep!
Movement enables learning through activating the brain. But exercise itself is one of the simplest ways to stimulate brain growth not to mention the other physical benefits and reduction of risk for many and most disorders.
It doesn’t have to be complicated – brisk walking is great for brain health.
There’s a lot of confusing information on nutrition and so-called superfoods. But simply nutrition is essential for numerosu and obvious resaons for optimal learning – energy, growth and detoxification. Simplest advice: low sugar, lots of variety and fresh, natural foods where possible.
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We are building this page bit by bit – please come back for updated content from 16th June, 2020.
Last updated 11th June, 2020